European Commission OKs transgenic corn for human food

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 27, 2004 (ENS): The European Commission, in one of its final acts before handing off to new commissioners next week, has authorized the import and marketing of foods and food ingredients derived from Monsanto's genetically modified maize line NK603. The approval came Tuesday over the objections of environmentalists, who fear it will sicken sensitive consumers and contaminate organic crops.

This maize, or corn, has already been approved or import and for use as animal feed and for industrial processing. With both approvals in place, it is now possible to place on the market NK603 maize and derived products such as starch, oil, maize gluten feed and maize meal for food and feed use. The crop will be grown and harvested outside the EU.

NK603 maize has been modified to make the it tolerant to Monsanto's own herbicide, glyphosphate, marketed under the trade name Roundup. The authorization of NK603 maize for food use is valid immediately and will stay valid for 10 years.

David Byrne, the outgoing commissioner responsible for health and consumer protection, said, “During my time as commissioner, we put in place a clear and strict system for the authorization and labeling of GMOs, based on clear scientific advice. We are now seeing the system work in practice.

"The clear labeling system guarantees consumers what they have asked for - the information they need so that they can choose whether or not to buy any genetically modified products," he said.

The Commission took the decision to authorize NK603 following the failure of the Council of Ministers either to approve or reject the Commission proposal for authorization. Only 11 out of 25 member states supported it in an indicative vote taken in June.

Friends of the Earth charges that the Commission caved in to the pressure from the Bush administration in the United States, which brought a complaint at the World Trade Organization against Europe's biotech policy.

Geert Ritsema, coordinator of genetically modified food issues for Friends of the Earth Europe said, "This is a shameful final act by the outgoing European Commission. Despite scientific disagreements over its safety and huge public rejection the Commission decided instead to put the interests of corporate America before the safety of Europeans."

Friends of the Earth is critical of the Monsanto application which fails to look at the corn's effects on subsequent generations, cumulative toxic effects and the effects on the health of sensitive consumers as required under EU food law.

There has not been sufficient investigation of the possibility of the genetic modification causing more allergies, the environmental group says.

But Monsanto says the genetically modified maize, marketed in the United States as Roundup Ready Corn 2, is good for the environment. Jerry Hjelle, vice president of regulatory affairs for Monsanto, said, "This decision not only reaffirms the findings of regulatory bodies throughout the world, it also reinforces the profound benefits and potential of this technology for growers and the environment."

The Roundup Ready system encourages the adoption of conservation tillage practices, which reduces soil erosion, improves water quality and wildlife habitat, while optimizing yields, Hjelle says.

The NK603 maize will be imported from the United States where corn growers are delighted with the Commission's decision. Leon Corzine, president of the National Corn Growers Association, called the move, "a welcome step forward, although long overdue," and said it "supports the National Corn Growers Association's goal of providing information about and promoting acceptance of biotechnology."

"Biotechnology continues to be one of National Corn Growers Association's key priorities and this decision is certainly encouraging for U.S. corn growers," Corzine said.

Monsanto's year-end sales data for 2004 show that acres planted with Roundup Ready corn rose for a seventh consecutive season in the United States. Roundup Ready corn technology is estimated to have been planted on more than 16 million acres this season, up from 12 million acres in 2003.

The European Commission's decision does not include the approval of NK603 maize for cultivation in the EU, which is the subject of a separate submission.

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