Europe approves Monsanto Roundup Ready corn for animal feed

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 of glyphosate.

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 consequences.

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 European market.

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.

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