Experts from European Union member states agreed late Tuesday to demand that all shipments from the United States need to be certified free of illegal genetically modified (GM) maize.
”This shows that the European Commission (the executive arm of the EU) is being forced to accept that current procedures do not protect the EU market from illegal GM imports,” Katharine Mill from the Greenpeace European unit told IPS.
Pending authentication the EU must ”ban all food, weed, crops and seed from the U.S until proper testing methods are put in place,” Mill said.
That failure in testing was exposed in an article in the New York-based magazine Nature last month. The magazine had reported that between 2001 and 2004 the agribusiness giant Syngenta sold several hundred tonnes of the GM maize seed Bt10 to U.S. farmers as Bt11.
The difference is that unlike Bt11, Bt10 has not been approved for human consumption anywhere in the world, the environment group Friends of the Earth (FoE) clarified Wednesday.
The European Commission had earlier endorsed the claim from the U.S.-based Syngenta that the two GM strains were ”physically identical.” But Nature pointed out that the unapproved maize contained a controversial antibiotic resistant gene.
The illegal maize, meanwhile, entered the European food chain and was even planted at test sites in Spain and France, FoE says. This led to a review of the GM import policy in the European Union. A meeting to consider a ban is expected Friday.
A ban is likely given the circumstances of the illegal imports. ”It is difficult to know the full extent of contamination and where the GM crops ended up because Syngenta has not released the information that would allow governments to test,” FoE activist Clare Oxborrow told IPS. ”That effectively means that all imports of maize feed into Europe would be blocked.”
The European Commission’s standing committee on pesticides is expected to rubber-stamp the recommendations of the experts.
”EU countries have now given the European Commission the green light to introduce strict restrictions on U.S. imports,” Adrian Bebb, another GM campaigner for FoE, said in a statement Wednesday. ”The Commission must act quickly to protect the public from this unlicensed and untested genetically modified crop.”
Bebb said the failure of Syngenta to provide the basic information needed to test for crop contamination was a disgrace. ”The Commission must insist that this secrecy end and Syngenta set up a fund to pay for testing. The polluter must pay, not the public.”
The inability of the biotechnology industry to control its own products makes ”a complete mockery of the EU’s monitoring systems,” he said. ”The European Commission must order an immediate review to ensure that the public is never again exposed to unapproved genetically modified foods.”
Greenpeace has called on the European Commission to ”prepare for a ban on all food and feed crops and seeds from the U.S., as long as EU authorities do not have the means to test imports for illegal genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and until the U.S. government investigates the recent security lapse concerning Syngenta’s Bt10 maize, and implements a failsafe system to control GMOs being shipped to Europe.”
Companies seeking approval to market GMOs in Europe should have to provide data on how to test for all other GM seeds they produce, it said.
”We need to be sure that genetically modified plants that are illegal in Europe and have not been tested for their effects on human health or the environment are not entering our food chain,” Greenpeace genetic engineering expert Christoph Then said in a statement.
”We have no such guarantees at present, since neither the Commission nor member states are equipped to identify untested GMOs. The situation is clearly unacceptable and out of step with EU safety regulations.”