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EU members protest proposed GM crop approval

Posted on behalf of Barbara Casassus.

Ministers from 12 European Union (EU) member states have urged the European Commission to reconsider its proposal to approve a new strain of genetically modified maize (corn).

The representatives, from countries including Austria, France and Italy, sent a letter dated 12 February to European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg asking him not to sanction the approval of Pioneer 1507. The move follows a debate at an EU General Affairs Council meeting on 11 February, at which it became clear that the commission is almost certain to sanction cultivation of the crop. This is despite the opposition of 19 of the 28 member countries — and the European Parliament. The letter states that this outcome would not “yield approval under any other decision-making procedure”.

At the meeting, Germany indicated that it would abstain in a vote, a move that would swing the decision in favour of planting the genetically modified organism (GMO), made by DuPont and Dow Chemical. This is because its vote carries more weight than those of smaller nations under the EU voting system. Two other large states — the United Kingdom and Spain — are in favour, but France, Italy and several smaller states are against.

Before the letter was received, commission agriculture spokesperson Roger Waite was quoted by Euractiv as saying: “The commission shall adopt the proposal to approve the GMO. The rules are clear — there is no choice. This is why the commissioner made clear that an abstention is equivalent to a vote in favour.”

But Greek foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos told a press conference after the meeting that a legal technicality could allow the commission to reject the law, as the debate had been about voting intentions and did not produce  a formal vote, according to the European Observer. New scientific evidence against the maize could make the difference.

Many consumers in Europe have long been lukewarm or hostile to GM crops, and Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe claim that Pioneer 1507 releases a toxin that is dangerous for butterflies and moths, the European Observer added.

At the moment, two GM crops are authorized for cultivation in the EU, but only Monsanto’s MON810 maize is being grown, and only in a few countries. Last summer, Monsanto threw in the EU towel, saying that it would withdraw all its applications for authorization in the 28 countries.

That paved the way for Pioneer, which filed its application for 1507 in 2001 and has received approval for food and feed use from the European Food Safety Authority.

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