EU set to grow more GM maize despite strong opposition

image copyrightAFP
image captionMaize in France: Many EU countries refuse to allow the planting of GM crops

The EU is set to approve a new type of genetically modified maize for cultivation despite huge opposition.

The European Commission says the US-developed maize variety, called Pioneer 1507, is safe and the decision is now in the Commission's hands.

Most EU governments objected to it in a vote, but the vote tally was still not enough to block it. Under EU rules, the Commission can now authorise it.

Only one GM crop - another maize variety - is grown in the EU currently.

There are widespread fears in Europe that GM crops carry potential risks to human health and wildlife. There is strong opposition to them among the public and environmental groups.

GM crops are engineered in labs to be resistant to pests and weedkillers. They are widely cultivated in the US, South America and Asia.

Europe divided

Pioneer 1507, developed by US biotech giant Dupont-Pioneer, produces a pesticide toxin and is resistant to a weedkiller called glufosinate ammonium.

The environmental group Greenpeace says the toxin is harmful to butterflies and moths, and alleges that the glufosinate weedkiller "will be banned in the EU by 2017 due to its toxicity".

Glufosinate has been officially approved as safe for use in the EU until September 2017 and is not yet under review.

EU rules on GM crops allow countries to ban cultivation of a GM variety on their soil, even if Brussels has authorised it.

In Tuesday's EU ministerial vote, cultivation of Pioneer 1507 was supported by the UK, Spain, Sweden, Finland and Estonia.

France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Poland were among 19 countries that voted against the GM crop.

But the abstention of Germany, which has the biggest voting weight in the ministerial Council, meant that opposition was blunted. Three other countries also abstained.

Last month a majority of European Parliament members objected to Pioneer 1507.

A German Social Democrat MEP on the parliament's environment committee, Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, said risk assessments by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) "show that highly sensitive butterflies and moths may be at risk when exposed to maize 1507 pollen".

"Yet, Pioneer refused to present additional documents regarding monitoring and risk mitigating measures for these non-target species," she added.

image copyrightAFP
image captionLast year there was an anti-GM protest at a Monsanto plant in Trebes, southwestern France

Years of delay

France's Europe Minister, Thierry Repentin, warned that voters could react badly to the EU playing by rules which allowed a minority of countries to impose a decision on the majority.

The EU Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, said the Commission was proposing authorisation because the European Court of Justice had told Brussels not to delay the decision any longer. Dupont-Pioneer had taken the Commission to court for "failure to act" back in 2007.

One GM maize - MON 810, made by US-based Monsanto - is cultivated in the EU. Spain is by far the biggest grower of MON 810 in Europe, with 116,306 hectares (287,400 acres), the European Commission says.

Yet the EU total for MON 810 is just 1.35% of the EU's total maize-growing area.

Brussels also allows 49 GM varieties to be used in animal feed - mostly maize, including Pioneer 1507. Mr Borg said it did not make sense therefore to block cultivation of Pioneer 1507.

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