Farming News - Commission set to approve new GM maize variety

Commission set to approve new GM maize variety

01 Nov 2013
Frontdesk / Machinery


The EU Commission is set to approve cultivation of a new variety of genetically modified maize in the EU. If approved, TC1507 would be the first GM maize licensed in the bloc in over a decade, and only the third such crop approved for commercial production.


The potential approval goes against prior signals from the Commission; early on in the year, European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said no new authorisations of GM crops could be expected before 2015, and disunity over the controversial issue has continued since then. In June, EU officials in the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health failed to reach an agreement over the approval of three genetically modified maize varieties for import into Europe.


So far this year, two new EU states have introduced bans on genetically modified crops; moves by Italy and Poland have brought the number of states where cultivation is outlawed to eight, though EU courts have contested the legality of the states' restrictions.


Commission proposals on TC1507 follow pressure from General Court of the EU, which last month ruled the Commission had delayed the approval process of the GM maize in response to a complaint from DOW Pioneer, the maize's manufacturer. Due to the conflicting opinions over GM crops in the EU, the approval process for many such crops has effectively become deadlocked; the process for TC1507 has dragged on for 12 years.


The delay was partly due to a series of environmental assessments. Campaigners have warned that the maize, which has been engineered to produce insecticidal toxins and resist herbicide applications, could harm butterflies and other key insect pollinators. Greenpeace has also claimed that there are "gaps in safety testing" carried out by the European Food Safety Authority, which should also be addressed.


The proposals will now be viewed and voted on by EU ministers, but in the likely event of a disagreement, the Commission will have the power to override the member state governments and grant approval (the EU executive would be obliged to do so based on EFSA's recommendations).   


On taking office, Commissioner Borg said he would like to revive talks on licensing GM crops on a state-by-state basis, though both sides of the stalled debate have so far rejected this. Pro-GM governments want the same rules to apply to all and sceptic governments claim that farmers near national borders would suffer as a result of contamination and cross-pollination.


Only one GM crop is currently grown in the EU – Monsanto's MON810 maize, sold as Yieldgard. Although BASF's Amflora potato was licensed for cultivation in 2010, the crop was withdrawn from the market less than two years later, due to poor performance and sales. BASF and Monsanto have both withdrawn licensing applications for GM crops from the EU, stating that farmers, governments and citizens are hostile to the technology.


Although GM advocates in Europe, including prominent figures such as UK environment secretary Owen Paterson, claim the debate on GM is over and blame environmental groups for stoking unfounded fears over the crops' safety and potential environmental impacts. Sceptics maintain GM crops are "a scion of [unsustainable] monocultural agriculture" and a tool for greater corporate control of the food system. 


Last week, Dr Belinda Martineau, a scientist who helped commercialise the world's first GM crop – the Flavr Savr tomato – added her name to a list of eminent scientists in support of a statement made by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER). Dr Martineau said, "I wholeheartedly support this thorough, thoughtful and professional statement describing the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of genetically engineered [crops]… Society's debate over how best to utilize the powerful technology of genetic engineering is clearly not over."


Responding to the Commission's proposal on Friday, Helena Paul, acting chair of GM Freeze in the UK, said, "Serious doubts remain about the safety of the Bt protein present in this GM maize and there is a lack of independent evidence about its impact on target species, as well as non-target species that are exposed to it in the environment. [Crops] such as this are proving increasingly ineffective in the US as insects develop resistance to the GM toxin and farmers have to use more insecticides. It is not sustainable in any sense of the word and member states should reject it."