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Europe's leading food safety agency gave a clean bill of health for the
planting of a genetically modified (GMO) maize, only the first step toward
possible EU approval for growing, March 2005 by Jeremy Smith .
While the EU has now lifted its 6-year ban on allowing imports of new
GMOs, there have no approvals since 1998 on any new gene-spliced crop that
could be planted in Europe's fields -- and the EU's 25 governments are
deeply divided on the issue.
A handful of GMO crops, mainly maize types, were authorized for growing
across the EU shortly before the moratorium began in 1998. No new crop has
been allowed for planting since then.
Spain is the only EU state to grow gene-altered crops on a commercial scale,
although field trials exist elsewhere.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is key to the biotech debate,
since it is independent and non-political.
It has already given several positive assessments of GMOs for use in food
and animal feed, but never for a "live" one that can be planted. Now, it has
made its first foray into the controversial area of whether GMO crops are
safe to be planted.
The maize, known as 1507, is made jointly by Pioneer Hi-Bred International,
a subsidiary of DuPont Co., and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen seeds. It is
engineered to resist the corn borer insect, among other pests, and a widely
used type of herbicide.
"The Panel considers that 1507 maize will have similar impacts on the
environment as other comparable non-GM maize cultivated plant varieties,"
EFSA said. The maize was also safe for use in animal feed and industrial
processing, it said.
"The Panel is of the opinion that there is no evidence to indicate that the
placing of 1507 maize and derived products on the market is likely to cause
adverse effects on human or animal health or the environment," it said in a
EFSA's views are used by the European Commission as independent scientific
opinion on the safety risk of GMO products for entry into the food chain,
for consumption by humans and animals and for release into the environment.
DIFFICULT ROAD AHEAD
Despite the EU lifting its moratorium on new GMOs, there is little sign of
any break in the deadlock between the EU's 25 governments on the issue of
biotech crops for planting.
And while EFSA's opinion is needed for 1507 maize's application for growing
to proceed, it will be many months yet before this is presented to any EU
panel of experts.
Before then, EU environment experts, representing member states, will meet
on Monday to discuss whether to allow imports of 1507 maize, but only for
use in industrial processing, including in animal feed -- not for growing.
One of the maize's co-manufacturers welcomed the EFSA opinion, saying it
hoped the EU experts would permit imports of their product at their meeting
"1507 maize has been proven safe," said Alejandro Munoz, Director of Europe
for Pioneer Hi-Bred International.
"(It) should have a fair and equitable opportunity to compete with other
products that have already been approved in the EU, and member states are
urged to vote positively on this dossier on Monday," Munoz said in a
But diplomats say the longstanding deadlock between EU states is unlikely to
be broken, meaning that the decision will probably be escalated to ministers
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