BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 20, 2004 (ENS):
After five years of a de facto moratorium on the marketing
of genetically modified crops due to public opposition,
the European Commission authorized Monday the import
and processing of the first genetically modified crop.
Monsanto's genetically modified maize NK603 was approved
for use in animal feed or for industrial purposes but
not for cultivation or human food.
This authorization is valid for 10 years. The NK603
line of maize, or corn, was developed to allow the use
of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide
Roundup, as a weed control option. The genetic modification
allows the plant to survive the otherwise lethal application
A separate decision on authorizing the NK603 maize
for use in human food will be taken in the coming months
after EU agriculture ministers Monday failed to support
the Commission's proposal to allow its import for food.
The NK603 maize is the first product to be assessed
and approved after the entry into force of a new set
of regulations governing genetically modified crops.
It will be covered by the new strict labeling and traceability
rules which came into force in April.
When put on the market, the NK603 maize must be clearly
labeled as genetically modified, whether in bulk shipments,
bags or other containers. Its post-marketing monitoring
will be assured through a unique identifier assigned
to the grain to enable its traceability.
European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom
said, "The NK603 maize has been subject to a rigorous
pre-market risk assessment. It has been scientifically
assessed by the European Food Safety Authority as being
as safe as any conventional maize. Its safety is, therefore,
not in question, and neither is the question of user
or consumer choice."
"Clear labeling provides farmers and consumers
with the information they need to decide whether to
buy the product or not. And robust post-marketing rules
will ensure that the product can be traced and monitored
when put on the market," said Wallstrom.
"Monsanto welcomes the Commission's ruling on
Roundup Ready Corn 2 technology," said Brett Begemann,
executive vice president of international commercial
for Monsanto. "This decision is welcome progress
toward completing the necessary regulatory approvals
for Roundup Ready Corn 2 technology in the EU. We're
hopeful that this is a signal that the European Communities
and its member states are serious about ending the moratorium
on biotech approvals."
NK603 maize is widely used in other parts of the world
with "no reports of any adverse effects on health
or the environment," said Wallstrom. The genetically
modified grain has been approved as human food in Australia,
Canada and Japan, South Africa and the United States,
and as animal feed in the Philippines.
Last week, the Argentine government approved Monsanto's
NK603 Roundup Ready maize for planting in that country.
Monsanto's preliminary 2004 sales data suggests that
acres planted with Roundup Ready Corn are expanding
in the United States. Acres planted are expected to
increase for a seventh consecutive season and it is
estimated to be planted on 16 million acres this season,
up from 12 million acres last year, the company said.
Still, European reluctance to approve genetically modified
foods is clear. The Council of Agriculture Ministers
Monday failed to reach a qualified majority to approve
the use of NK603 corn and its processed products as
foods and food ingredients under the Novel Foods Regulation.
Processed products include foods such as cornstarch
or corn syrup.
After it became clear that there would be no qualified
majority there was no official vote and so the position
of individual countries is unclear.
Friends of the Earth, which has opposed genetically
modified crops for years, says not enough analysis of
NK603 maize has been done.
"There has only been an analysis of the short-term
effects on human and animal health. There has been no
analysis of the long-term effects on subsequent generations
and the effects on health sensitive consumers,"
Friends of the Earth says, warning that approval without
such analysis is a violation of European law.
In addition, the group says, there has been insufficient
analysis of the grain's potential to trigger allergies.
"It is unacceptable that EFSA [European Food Safety
Authority] has dismissed the legitimate concerns raised
by several member states about the suitability of the
approach used for allergenicity testing."
Friends of the Earth says the European Food Safety Authority
has neglected a recent report from the Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development that demonstrates
that maize can cause allergic reactions.
The group and other critics such as Greenpeace worry
that cows fed on genetically modified feed may produce
milk that triggers allergies or has other harmful health
But the European Commission says its new system to
regulate genetically modified food, feed and crops is
"clear, transparent and stringent."
The authorization procedure under this new system is
intended to ensure that only genetically modified organisms
which are safe for human and animal consumption and
for release into the environment can be placed on the
Several genetically modified foods are already authorized
in the European Union - mainly herbicide tolerant soy,
maize, cotton, and oilseed rape, known as canola.
Monsanto has requested EU authorization for a Roundup
Ready sugar beet and several other genetically altered
maize strains that are modified for insect resistance
or herbicide tolerance.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All