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EU angers US with GM maize 'ban'

Imports face test for 'illegal GM organism'

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EU experts last Friday angered the US by blocking imports of US GM maize products unless "there is proof they are untainted by an illegal genetically modified organism", Reuters reports.

The escalating row concerns non-approved Bt10 corn seed developed by biotech outfit Syngenta. The US admitted in March that several hundred tonnes of corn produced from Bt10 seed were sold over the last four years. As we reported then, the Bt10 seed was planted accidently instead of the Bt11 variety.

The cock-up came to light when "one of [Syngenta's] seed manufacturers, which was attempting to use the corn seeds in plant-breeding experiments, informed it that the seed was not Bt11".

Bt10 and Bt11 are physically identical and have been modified with a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which acts as a pesticide against the "corn borer". Bt11 has already been approved as fit for human consumption, and the two GM varieties differ only in "a handful of nucleotides on a section of the gene that does not code for the protein toxin". US government scientists have concluded since the revelation that Bt10 too is safe to eat.

It's not approved for consumption, though, hence the EU's clampdown, set for review in October. For its part, the US called the EU's stance an "over-reaction" - unsurprising since US exporters reportedly dispatch 3.5 million tons of "corn gluten feed" to Europe each year in a trade worth €350m ($449m).

EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, said: "Imports of maize products which are certified as free of Bt-10 will be able to continue, but at the same time we cannot and will not allow a GMO which has not gone through our rigorous authorization procedures to enter the EU market."

Accordingly, as of next week, "US exports to Europe of corn gluten feed and brewers grains, a by-product of ethanol, must be certified by an internationally-accredited laboratory to show there is no presence of Bt-10 maize."

Green groups applauded the decision as an effective ban on GM maize feed imports from the US to the EU. Friends of the Earth Europe spokesman, Adrian Bebb, enthused: "Today's emergency measures will be unpopular with the US government and the biotechnology industry but will start to protect Europe from more contaminated products."

Edward Kemp, a spokesman for the US mission to the European Union, countered: "We view the EU's decision to impose a certification requirement on US corn gluten due to the possible, low-level presence of Bt-10 corn to be an over-reaction.

"US regulatory authorities have determined there are no hazards to health, safety or the environment related to Bt-10. There is no reason to expect any negative impact from the small amounts of Bt-10 corn that may have entered the EU."

Although the US regulatory authorities were initially reluctant to divulge where exactly in the EU the Bt-10 seed may have landed, Reuters reveals that 10 kilograms - destined for research purposes - made their way to Spain and France. They have reportedly been destroyed. ®

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