EU says yes to GM sweetcorn

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Maize, European union, European commission

The European Commission has given the nod to Sygenta's Bt11
genetically modified sweetcorn, granting authorisation for it to be
sold within the European Union over the next ten years. Although
the Commission says that the sweetcorn should be clearly labelled
as a GM product, Friends of the Earth has lashed out against the
decision, saying that it is likely to strengthen opposition to GM
foods and crops in Europe.

Grain from the GM maize line Bt11 has been authorised for import into Europe since 1998 and is widely used in the EU in feed and in derived food products, such as maize oil, maize flour, sugar and syrup, snack foods, baked foods, fried foods, confectionery and soft drinks.

In justifying the decision, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne said: "GM sweet corn has been subject to the most rigorous pre-marketing assessment in the world. It has been scientifically assessed as being as safe as any conventional maize. Food safety is therefore not an issue, it is a question of consumer choice."

"EU rules on GMOs require clear labelling and traceability. Labelling provides consumers with the information they need to make up their own mind. They are therefore free to choose what they want to buy. The Commission is acting responsibly based on stringent and clear legislation."

The Commission is in the firm belief that it has a clear and transparent system, which champions the consumer and gives them the choice as to whether or not they wish to buy GM food products. It says that extensive research and fieldwork has now been completed, proving that there is no risk to human health or the environment.

In response to the Commission's decision, UK-based environmental group Friends of the Earth spokesperson Adrian Bebb said: "The European Commission is gambling with the health of European consumers. Member states remain divided over the long term safety of this GM sweet corn, yet the Commission wants to force it down our throats. The public won't swallow this arrogance. Hostility to GM food and crops is likely to grow, and public confidence in EU decision-making will be damaged."

Friends of the Earth added its belief that the Commission had let consumers down and that the decision went against the wishes of the public, particularly those in the UK.

However, the Commission's directive has failed to address the even thornier issue of GM crops, which many opposition groups consider to be the main battle ground for the future. Many industry observers believe that the decision to approve GM foods is the first hurdle in the battle to get GM crops approved.

For food companies, the approval of Syngenta's Bt11 sweetcorn means that the doors will now be opened to a raft of other GM foods which are currently awaiting approval. Big agro-food biotech players such as Monsanto and AgrEvo will now be pushing for authorisation as foods on a number of sweet corn varieties as well as sugar beet and soy bean.

Representing companies such as Monsanto, the United States trade mission to the EU said it welcomed the decision to approve Sygenta's sweetcorn, although it added that the approval of one GM food would not mean an end to the much criticised biotech moratorium.

Anticipating a slow take up on its maize following the EU approval, Swiss-based Syngenta said that it did not expect the decision to have any major impact on its financial results this year, but added that it was a step in the right direction.

The company says it will continue to sell unmodified sweet corn to its European customers. Bt11 sweet corn is now approved for food use in the US, Canada, Argentina, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, China, Uruguay and South Africa and is approved for cultivation in the US, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa.

Related topics: Ingredients

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