European agriculture ministers were unable to reach any kind of agreement regarding five requests for approval of new strains of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), highlighting strong divisions with regard to the benefits and dangers of these controversial products.
The stalemate has angered green groups as it paves the way for default approval by the Commission, despite the opposition of large swathes of the European population to such products.
Industry and farmers, on the other hand, warned that member states’ continual failure to approve GMOs risked causing European agriculture to fall behind its competitors.
The applications discussed by member states concerned four strains of parasite and disease-resistant maize developed by the US group Monsanto, although one is now owned by the Swiss company Syngenta. The fifth product under consideration was a variety of starch-rich potato made by US group BASF.
None of the products were intended for cultivation on EU farmland but for use in food and animal feed, and, in the case of the potato, for industrial starch production.
The European Food Safety Authority has declared them safe, making it highly likely that the Commission will approve them, as it has done with a series of other GM products since 2004.
However, public health watchdogs and environmental NGOs have voiced strong concerns, in particular relating to the BASF potato, which contains antibiotic-resistant marker genes (EURACTIV 17/07/07). They fear that parts of the potato would be used to feed livestock, ultimately entering the food chain and thus weakening people’s capacity to fight off diseases as they become more resistant to certain drugs.