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
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
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.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.