Joshua Chaffin in Brussels, published: July 1 2009 03:04 | Last updated: July 1 2009 03:04
The European Union’s top scientific authority pushed aside doubts raised by several member states on Tuesday as it concluded that MON810, the only genetically modified maize cultivated in Europe, was as safe as traditional corn crops.
The opinion, issued by the European Food Safety Authority, marked the culmination of a politically charged review that has laid bare divisions among EU member states and government bodies over genetically modified foods.
It should clear the way for the European Commission to re-authorise MON810, which is produced by Monsanto, the US agribusiness, and was first approved for use in Europe for a 10-year period in 1998.
It could also undermine bans imposed on the product in six member states, including France and Germany, where governments cited possible health and environmental dangers.
“It’s an important step,” said Jonathan Ramsay, a Monsanto spokesman, calling EFSA’s study “the most complete review of MON810 ever undertaken”.
MON810 produces a protein that wards off the corn borer pest. Although it is prevalent on less than 1 per cent of the EU’s cultivated lands, it has become a lightning rod in the broader debate over GMOs because of its stature as the first to win approval for use in Europe.
MON810 and other GMOs have been trapped in a regulatory deadlock in the EU, with the commission repeatedly supporting their introduction based on EFSA’s advice only to have a contingent of member states raise fresh scientific concerns to block them.
That tension came into view during a meeting of environment ministers last week, when Austria sought to build support for a new proposal that would give member states greater discretion to regulate GMOs.
A spokesperson for Stavros Dimas, the European environment commissioner, said on Tuesday that the commission would “consider the decision carefully” before deciding next steps.
EFSA’s methods and objectivity have come under scrutiny throughout the process. A dozen member states, including France, Germany, Austria, Greece and Hungary, sent a letter to EFSA last month, raising a host of scientific questions about MON810, including its effect on Monarch butterflies.
In its report on Tuesday, EFSA acknowledged those concerns, but said it found the likelihood of adverse effects on such species was very low. “MON810 is as safe as its conventional counterpart with respect to potential effects on human and animal health,” it added.
Marco Contiero, a Greenpeace analyst, predicted that EFSA’s opinion would lead to further conflict between member states and the commission, and warned that it would influence the debate over GMOs in other parts of the world.
“The commission’s blind reliance on EFSA’s flawed opinions is likely to anger member states who feel scientific concerns on GM maize are not being addressed seriously,” Mr Contiero said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009