GM maize crop may get EU green light

The European Commission is proposing to allow cultivation of maize 1507, as the variety is known, a genetically modified maize variety

Traditional maize remains susceptible to the European Corn borer moth
Traditional maize remains susceptible to the European Corn borer moth

Maize 1507 would be only the third GM crop allowed for cultivation within the EU, owing to consumer and national governments having strong reservations about the impact of genetically modified food.

The GM variety is designed to produce its own insecticide against the European corn borer, a destructive moth whose caterpillars feast on corn ears and stalks.

Environmental groups have oppose the crop’s introduction; fearing maize 1507 will harm non-target species and lead to a surge in the use of a toxic herbicide to which maize 1507 has been made resistant.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has given the variety a green light in six reports since 2005. However, some restrictions were included in order to prevent collateral damage, such as planting 20% of conventional corn as a buffer zone around a GM crop. The EFSA does not have the final authorisation on the crop. Based on its advice, the European Commission issued a draft decision to authorise the crop. EU member states had to sign off the decision through a regulatory committee, made up of experts from each government.

The committee failed to reach a consensus owing to the wide ranging concerns from countries such as Austria and France, member states that are strictly opposed to growing GM crops, while Holland and Spain are more GM friendly.

Instead of referring to the Council of Members, the commission left the file in abeyance.

Agricultural giant Dupont Pioneer, had requested approval to grow the crop in 2001 but 12 years later, the company still had not been granted a decision.

Dupont finally fought the action in court and in September, the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, criticised the commission’s failure to reach a decision. The commission is now pressing member states to take a decision.

However, if the Council of Ministers does not gain a weighted majority to reject the crop’s cultivation within three months, the European Commission has the right to authorise growing the crop and has indicated this will happen.

The commission also pressed member states to avoid lengthy deadlocks in the future, by reconsidering a three year old proposal to reform the EU’s GM authorization procedures. The commission considers individual member states could decide to restrict a given GM crop on their own territory.

The Health commission is seeking to revive the commission’s “cultivation proposal,” which was proposed in 2010, to reform authorization procedures.

Under this plan, an agreement from the European Commission would remain valid across the EU by default, but individual member states could decide not to grow an authorized crop on their territory, even if EFSA considers there are not any scientific objections.

France, Germany, and the UK are believed to be opposed the idea of allowing countries to make individual decisions.

Some member states have questioned the validity of the proposal and consider the concept of renationalising procedures may be illegal, and that measures should remain valid across the EU.

Only two GM crops are permitted for cultivation within the EU; and only one crop is actually grown, Monsanto’s MON 810 maize, which was approved in 1998.

The crop represents 1.35% of total maize surface grown within the EU, the majority being grown in Spain. However, 51 GM crops are authorised for importation into the EU, mainly soya and maize, for feed use.

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