Loophole clears way for GM maize approval

EU ministers’ failure to either authorise or reject a pest-resistant GMO maize means the Commission will have to approve the product. NGOs are highlighting public mistrust in GMOs and want to tighten up clearance rules.

EU environment ministers on 2 December failed to reach the qualified majority needed to either adopt or reject a maize variety (MON 863 x MON 810) genetically modified by Monsanto SA to resist a species of corn rootworm.

“Failing a decision by the Council, it is for the Commission to adopt the proposed decision,” the UK Presidency indicated in a statement. Under existing authorisation rules, this means the maize will soon be given final approval by the Commission. This usually takes about one to three months to happen, EU Council sources indicated.

The Environment Council  has launched a debate on the authorisation procedure for GMOs. In a statement, it said "the debate covered […] the potential risks and benefits of GM technology, coexistence between GM and traditional crops, the decision-making process for individual GMOs and the need for further research". Discussions, it indicated will continue under the Austrian Presidency.

LuxembourgAustria and Greece are said to be the strongest supporters of a change to authorisation rules whereas Denmark would like to broaden the debate to the use of biotechnologies for advanced therapies. France said it did not have a political position on the authorisation procedure.

Environmental NGOs highlighted that loopholes in the current authorisation procedure allow products to be placed on the market despite a majority of member states voting against or abstaining. 

In an open letter to environment ministers, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) expressed "serious concerns about the way the authorisation procedure is functioning". It insisted that the GMO panel of the European Safety Authority (EFSA) improves its work and pay "more attention to the long-term effects" of GMOs, "including probable combination effects, scientific uncertainties as well as differences in scientific opinion".

According to Friends of the Earth Europe, EU regulations on GMO authorisation has "serious shortcomings". Scientific evidence provided by the European Food Safety Agency, they claim, is "not independent and the legal requirements for the assessment of long term effects on the environment and on human health are not being met".

EuropaBio, the European Association of Bioindustries, expressed disappointment earlier this year when EU agriculture ministers failed to reject a temporary ban by Greece on MON 810. "Neither the Greek Government nor any of the authorities have provided any validated scientific evidence to support either a ban or withholding approval to use these products in food," commented Simon Barber at EuropaBio.

In a June 2005 opinion, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave its approval to the genetically modified maize MON 863 x MON 810, saying it was unlikely to have an adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment. The request, filed in Germany by Monsanto SA, concerned a cross between MON 863 and MON 810, both of which are genetically modified to resist certain pests.

  • January 2006: WTO panel to adopt decision on restrictions of GMOs in the EU
  • 2006: Commission to submit an assessment report on the implementation of EU GMO legislation

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