June 27, 2005 (ENS): The environment ministers
of five European countries are standing firm on their
rejection of genetically modified crops. They have turned
down a package of proposals by the European Commission
to lift their bans on transgenic varieties of maize
and oilseed rape that are authorized across the European
At a European Environment Council meeting Friday, the
ministers of Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg
won a majority of their counterparts over to their view
that several varieties of genetically modified maize,
or corn, and oilseed rape, or canola, present risks
to human health and the environment.
This is the first time that the Environment Council
found a qualified majority against a Commission proposal
on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "The
Commission has a legal obligation to make sure that
the existing regulatory framework governing the release
of GMOs is correctly applied by member states. That
is why we proposed to lift the current bans or restrictions
on certain GMOs in Austria, France, Germany, Greece
Some of these eight national safeguard measures include
bans or restrictions on cultivation, while others include
bans on import and use in food and feed.
"The fact that the Council rejected all eight
proposals raises a host of questions," Dimas said.
"What is certain is that today’s vote sends
a political signal that member states may want to revisit
some aspects of the existing system."
Attempts by the European Commission to overturn the
bans follow a dispute over GM foods at the World Trade
Organization, where the United States claims they are
a barrier to trade.
Now the Commission "will have to carefully consider
the legal and scientific bases that underpin any further
proposals, as well as the implications for EU internal
market and trading partners," Dimas said.
Environmentalists were pleased with the Environment
Council vote. Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Emily
Diamand said, "Today's vote to allow EU countries
to maintain their bans on GM food and crops, is a vote
for common sense, and a victory for European consumers,
who are overwhelmingly opposed to GM food."
But the environmental group criticized the UK government
for again siding with the GM industry, and voting to
have the bans overturned. "It is bad enough that
Elliot Morley should ignore public opinion on this important
issue. But it is outrageous that he should try and stop
other countries saying no to GM," said Diamand.
"His actions will do nothing to improve the UK's
battered reputation on this issue, or help its poor
image in Europe."
The proposals to lift the national safeguard measures
concern authorized genetically modified organisms from
Aventis T25 maize, tolerant to glufosinate-ammonium,
has been banned in Austria. Also called Chardon LL,
it is the active ingredient in Liberty®. It was
approved in 1998 for all uses - cultivation, food and
Austria has expressed the concern about the risk of
out-crossing with wild relatives and conventional crops
as well as in sensitive areas, and worries that no monitoring
Austria supplied additional information about its allergenic
and toxicological risk assessment of T25 to the European
Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in response to a request
from the Commission. But in its opinion of July 2004,
the EFSA concluded, as it has for all previous arguments
and information, that Austria's additional information
did not invalidate the original risk assessment for
Monsanto's product MON810, known commercially as YieldGard
corn, is also banned in Austria. The maize, expressing
the Bt cryIA(b) gene, is engineered to repel three corn
borers. It was approved in 1998 for all uses.
Austria is concerned about the effects of the Bt toxins
on non-target organisms and development of resistance
to toxins by target organisms. Austrial presented additional
information about MON810 to the food safety authority,
citing the potential environmental impact of Bt toxin
and allergenic and toxicological risk assessments. But
this information did not change the authority's original
risk assessment carried out as part of the authorization
Syngenta GM maize, Bt176 has been banned in Austria,
Germany and Luxemburg. This Bt-maize is engineered to
include genes that confer tolerance to glufosinate ammonium.
In 1997, the EU approved it for all uses - cultivation,
food and feed, processing.
The three countries are concerned about the effects
of Bt toxins on non-target organisms and development
of resistance to toxins by target organisms. They are
also worried about risks associated with the development
of resistance to ampicillin antibiotic.
The oilseed rape varieties MS1xRF1 banned in France
were approved by the European Union in 1996. This Swede
rape, or canola, is resistant to the herbicide glufosinate
France claims the GM plants have negative effects on
human health, the environment and agriculture and raises
concerns about gene drift, gene flow and the accumulation
of resistance genes.
Topas 19/2 made by Bayer CropScience is banned in France
and Greece. This Swede rape, or canola, is tolerant
to the herbicide glufosinate was approved in 1998 for
import, storage and processing, but not cultivation.
France and Greece raise issues concerning dissemination,
persistence, volunteers and gene flow in the environment
arising from spillage or unintended release.
Greece filed additional information with the food safety
authority concerning environmental risks, consumer protection
and co-existence of Topas 19/2. Greece is especially
concerned about the plants out-crossing with their wild
relatives, which are consumed by humans in Greece, as
well as the enhanced capability of the rape and its
wild relatives and hybrids to survive and spread. Greece
also cites the potential for multi-resistant wild plants
In a separate proposal involving the authorization
of placing Monsanto's MON863 maize, with resistance
to corn rootworm, on the European market for import,
processing and feed use, the Council did not find the
required qualified majority for or against. This case
will now go back to the Commission for a final decision.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All