21st Oct 2016

EU commission passes the buck on GM maize

The European Commission says it will be up to member states to decide whether to cultivate a genetically modified (GM) crop known as Pioneer 1507 maize.

The announcement, made in Brussels by EU commissioner for health Tonio Borg on Wednesday (6 November), followed a European Court ruling in mid-September that Pioneer's 2001 request for permission to cultivate the insect-resistant crop must be dealt with.

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  • European corn borer moth: Pioneer has made six requests for its bug-resistant crop since 2001 (Photo: ajmatthehiddenhouse)

“In the coming months, ministers will be invited to take a position on this authorisation request,” said Borg.

The commission will be obliged by law to grant authorisation unless member states approve or reject the measure in a qualified majority vote.

The Union’s 28 environment ministers are set to vote on the matter on 13 December.

AFP reports that France, along with 12 other member states, oppose GM cultivation in Europe, but the UK is one of its six supporters.

Pioneer, part of US chemicals firm DuPont, has made repeated requests to allow the genetically modified crop into Europe's single market.

Maize 1507 was developed to resist moths, such as the European corn borer, and is already authorised in the EU as a food and animal feed component, but not for cultivation.

The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, has approved each of the company's six previous requests since 2001, but it has also noted that a toxin, glufosinate, released by 1507 is dangerous to some harmless butterflies and moths.

For its part, the environmental lobby group Greenpeace says that EFSA did not carry out legally required safety testing on glufosinate.

Despite the commission's laissez faire decision on Pioneer, glufosinate has been earmarked for an EU-wide phase out in 2017 due to its toxicity.

Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said in a statement out on Wednesday that the commission is ducking its responsibility.

He said that if 1507 gets the go-ahead, it "will encourage rampant use of a herbicide so toxic that it is being phased out in Europe."

He noted that the last GM crop authorised for cultivation in the EU was an antibiotic GM potato, made by German firm Basf, which got the green light in 2010.

“The crop was a commercial failure and was withdrawn after just two years,” Greenpeace's website says.

GM maize cultivation has existed in Europe since 1998, when the EU authorised MON 810 for commercial cultivation, which also protect crops against the European corn borer.

MON 810, made by US firm Monsanto, represents about 1.35 percent of the 9.5 million hectares of maize grown in the EU and is found mostly in Spain.


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