The French Food Safety Authority, the Belgian Bio-safety Council and the Austrian Federal Environment Agency have all raised concerns about the assessment of this Bt-11 maize.
Health fears over GM corn as Britain backs US imports
Europe's moves to allow GM corn may open floodgates
By Stephen Castle in Brussels
24 April 2004
Supermarkets are to get the go-ahead to stock genetically modified sweetcorn from the United States and Canada next week, ending Europe's five-year moratorium on new licences for GM food.
Britain is backing the move to bring in the new corn, but critics say that such a decision could open the floodgates with at least 30 more GM applications in the pipeline.
With European Union ministers deadlocked over the application, a meeting on Monday in Luxembourg is almost certain to hand the decision back to the European Commission, which is committed to approving it. That means that shops in Europe will be able to stock the imported sweet corn - codenamed Bt-11 - providing it is labelled as GM produce.
Environmental groups yesterday appealed for the decision to be blocked on health and safety grounds.
Greenpeace said that Bt-11 maize has been genetically modified to produce a toxin that is naturally found only in bacteria and that the scientific assessment was undertaken according to outdated rules. The French Food Safety Authority, the Belgian Bio-safety Council and the Austrian Federal Environment Agency have all raised concerns about its assessment, it said.
Eric Gall of Greenpeace European Unit said: "To lift the moratorium now by authorising a highly controversial GMO with a flawed risk assessment is no way to win the trust of a public massively opposed to the use of GMOs in food and agriculture." He added: "Ministers should reject Bt-11 and instead take action to tighten up evaluation procedures which are opaque and inadequate. Consumers and the environment deserve better."
A rejection by ministers remains unlikely because the EU nations are split between those highly nervous about the import of GM goods, and those worried that continued opposition to the American produce will stoke a transatlantic trade war. The import of goods for consumption is not as controversial as the granting of licences for the cultivation of crops.
Nevertheless, the looming approval marks a symbolic step, bringing to an end a long, de facto moratorium.
The application procedure for Bt-11 has been tortuous and some EU countries have been hiding behind complex rules that mean the go-ahead can be given without them having to back it formally. Six countries, including the UK, back the licence, six oppose it and three plan to abstain.
Beate Gminder, the spokeswoman for David Byrne, the European Commissioner for health and consumer protection, said: "If the council does not have a majority for or against it comes back to the Commission for adoption." One diplomat said: "It will not happen and the moratorium will be broken."
No new GM licences have been granted since 1998, when a group of EU member states made it clear that they would block any new approvals.
In the meantime the European Commission has pushed through new laws on traceability and labelling of GM products.