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EC approves Monsanto GM maize

Eurocattle to enjoy MON 863

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The European Commission on Monday authorised the import of Monsanto's GM maize MON 863 for use in animal feed after tests declared it "as safe as conventional maize and unlikely to produce adverse effects". MON 863 is now cleared for "import, processing and feed use but not use in food or for cultivation".

MON 863 has been genetically modified to resist the corn rootworm. The EC press release on the product notes: "The product will be covered by the new strict labelling and traceability rules which came into force in April 2004. When put on the market, it will need to 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."

The decision comes after Germany declared MON 863 safe, but "other Member States raised and maintained objections in terms of molecular characterisation, allergenicity, toxicity, an inadequate monitoring plan, accidental spillage, presence of an antibiotic resistance marker gene and detectability".

Further details on MON 863's approval are available in the EC release. The assertion that it is safe will, nonetheless, do little to assure those opposed to GM crops that their development is anything less than a dangerous gamble.

In June, EU food safety experts failed to agree on whether or not to authorise 1507 GM maize - resistant to glufosinate-ammonium herbicide and some insects - and produced by DuPont Co. subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Dow AgroSciences offshoot Mycogen Seeds. The application was for the use of 1507 use in starch, flour and corn syrups.

That impasse came on the back of an EU "ban" on the importation of any GM maize products from the US following the sorry case of non-approved Bt10 corn (maize) seed which accidently got into the food chain. The EU duly angered the US by blocking the import of any US GM maize products unless "there is proof they are untainted by an illegal genetically modified organism".

The US admitted in March that several hundred tonnes of Bt10 seed had been sold over the past four years. Bt10 is a physically identical variant of Bt11 - the latter approved as fit for human consumption and widely used. Both have been modified with a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which acts as a pesticide against "corn borer".

Bt10, though, is not approved for human consumption. The UK's Department for The Environment, Food And Rural Affairs said at the time: "There is no actual indication that this contamination could have affected supplies of maize exported to the UK. The amount of seed in question is very small. In addition, only 18% of US corn is exported - and the EU imports only a very small proportion of US exports of maize.

"In addition this form of maize is used predominantly in animal feed rather than in food production. We do however apply high standards of enforcement and as part of our firm commitment to consumer choice and information we are making this information public."

In fact, Bt10 developer Sygenta had reported the cock-up to US regulators in 2004, but the authorities only released the information in March 2005, and declined to say to which countries it might have been exported. This naturally provoked suspicion that the US was attempting to protect its potentially lucrative GM export market, and further led to accusations that the whole GM process was not adequately controlled.

Michael Rodemeyer, director of the Washington DC-based Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, said at the time: "This will raise questions in the minds of countries that import food from the United States about whether we have adequate controls in place. It will provide ammunition for critics of genetically modified food - and it may provide incentives for countries to look at non-genetically modified varieties." ®

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