Genetically modified soybean gains EU Commission approval

This genetically modified soybean was approved after a comprehensive authorisation procedure, including a scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority.  [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The European Commission authorised a genetically modified soybean for food and feed, but not cultivation, on Monday (28 September), paving the way for a full launch of the variety in the US and Canada in 2021.

The genetically modified (GM) soybean, the XtendFlex, was approved after a comprehensive authorisation procedure, including a scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority.

The soybean, produced by biotechnology company Bayer, has been developed to confer tolerance to three major herbicides: dicamba, glufosinate-ammonium and glyphosate.

With a guaranteed European market, growers in the US and Canada are expected now to ramp up the production of the soybean in order to capitalise on the new avenues opened by this decision.

All member states were given the opportunity to express their view in the standing committee and subsequently the appeal committee. 

“Given the outcome of the process, the European Commission has the legal duty to proceed with the authorisation,” reads a statement on the Commission website.

The authorisation is valid for 10 years, and any products produced from this GM variety will be subject to the EU’s labelling and traceability rules.

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XtendFlex is Bayer’s newest soybean and builds on a previous GM variety with an added tolerance to glufosinate.

This means that growers are “provided with additional flexibility and tools to help manage tough to control and resistant weeds,” a Bayer representative told EURACTIV.

“With this authorisation, Bayer now looks forward to a full launch in the United States and Canada in 2021,” they confirmed.

But news of the authorisation has not been met with enthusiasm by some quarters.

Green MEP Tilly Metz told EURACTIV that the decision to authorise these GMO imports is “hugely disappointing”.

“The new Commission clearly understands that the import of herbicide-tolerant GMOs, particularly GM soybeans which could be grown in countries such as Brazil and Argentina, risk undermining the EU’s international commitments for climate including on the protection of forests and biodiversity,” she warned. 

Metz emphasised that the Commission has “failed to listen to the arguments of the European Parliament and to a majority of member states who voted against this GM soybean in particular.”

She added concerns that these crops could be exposed to both higher and repeated doses of the complementary herbicides, which will potentially lead to a higher quantity of residues in the harvest as well as a higher risk for the sprayer.

Eric Gall, policy manager at EU organics association IFOAM, said that as the soybean has been authorised for use in food and feed rather than cultivation on EU territory, contamination at the production stage is not a direct concern for organic agriculture in the EU.

However, he shared similar concerns that importing this crop into the EU market may lead to increased pesticide use outside of the EU, with the “proven negative impact on the environment and biodiversity that is connected to the application of these synthetic pesticides”.

Italian minister: Unlike gene editing, GMOs belong to the past

Italy’s agricultural minister Teresa Bellanova expressed an interest in developing sustainable biotechnology, in the light of a milestone agreement on next-gen biotech between farmers organisation Coldiretti and the Italian Society of Agricultural Genetics (SIGA).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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