The European Commission on Monday (8 August) approved the import of genetically modified maize despite opposition from 14 member states.
The maize, known as MON863, has been engineered by the American biotech company, Monsanto, to resist the corn rootworm insect by producing a toxin in the plant.
According to the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth Europe, food safety studies of the GM maize on rats showed significantly different levels of white blood cells, kidney weights and kidney structure, as well as a lower albumin/globulin rate in the rats fed the GM maize.
But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded the MON863 maize is as safe as conventional maize and unlikely to produce adverse effects.
MON863 is the third GM product to be approved by the commission since the end of the EU’s six-year moratorium in April last year.
In May 2004, the Commission gave the go-ahead to the Swiss firm Syngenta’s application to import BT-11 sweet corn into the 25-nation bloc and in October 2004 Monsanto was given the go-ahead to market foods and food ingredients derived from the genetically modified maize NK603.
A majority of member states were opposed to the clearances, but did not hold a qualified majority of votes to decide the matter. Under EU rules, the commission is allowed to take a final decision, if the Council is unable to.
On 24 June, the Environment Council failed to reach a position on the proposal to allow the import of MON83. 14 member states voted against, while seven countries (Germany, Estonia, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and the UK) voted in favour and four (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Spain and Ireland) abstained.
The authorisation now granted to Monsanto is valid for 10 years, but covers only the import and the use of the maize as animal feed.
The commission underlined that the product would be clearly labelled as containing genetically modified maize. “Its post-marketing monitoring will be assured through a unique identifier assigned to the maize to enable its traceability”, it said in a press release.
The next step will be a decision in September by EU agriculture ministers on the food application for the same maize. Environmentalists are hoping for ministers to use this last opportunity to block import of the GM maize.
“They must use the opportunity to protect their citizens, stand up to the commission, and reject it once and for all,” said Helen Holder, GMO campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth.
Under EU legislation, no import, including that of animal feed, is allowed until the food application has been authorized. “In this case, no imports will be able to start unless the MON863 food application is authorised”, according to the Friends of Earth Europe. Lisbeth Kirk, EUObserver