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Three speedy GM maize approvals ease soy imports

By Jess Halliday , 03-Nov-2009

The European Commission last week approved three varieties of genetically modified maize for import and processing for food and feed uses, as soy imports into the EU were held up by the bloc’s zero tolerance policy.

Just 10 days before the Commission adopted decisions on Monsanto’s MON 88017 and MON 89034 and Pioneer’s 59122x a council vote on the approval application came to no conclusion. This meant that the matter was passed back to the Commission to make a default decision.

The Commission’s decision, exercised whenever agreement cannot be reached by member states, is made on the basis of safety evidence. EFSA has given positive safety opinions for MON 88017 and MON 89034 and 59122x, but the matter became pressing as these are three of the four maize varieties that have been impeding soy imports since the summer.

Traces of unapproved GM maize have been found in shipments of US soy in June, and since the EU accepts no amount of unapproved GM material, no matter how tiny, some 200,000 tonnes of soy have been refused entry. This has caused particular concern for the animal feed sectors and meat sectors, as Europe is reliant on soy from the US, Argentina and Brazil.

An analysis from Waganingen University projected that the economic impact of the lost US soybean imports would be between €3.5 to €5 billion by March 2010, comprised of lost revenues for the crushing industry as well as higher raw material costs for food and feed.

The contamination is thought to have occurred as containers are often shared for soy and for maize.

Agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is said to be keen on finding a way for GM crops to be approved more quickly and efficiently, as getting to the Commission’s default ‘rubber stamping’ after rounds of disapproval between member states is a long and round-about process.

Some member states are staunchly opposed to GM, and anti-GM groups argue that the long-term impact of genetic modification for human and environmental health is unknown, and will not be known for many years yet.

Zero tolerance?

A proposal that would set minimum levels for GM material, removing the zero tolerance rule, is also being prepared, and may be ready by the end of the year, Fischer Boel has said.

In a recent statement on competitiveness of the EU food and beverage sector, the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU drew attention to the impact of the “asynchronous nature of GMO approval procedures, coupled with the application of a zero tolerance threshold for the low level presence (LLP) of GMOs not yet approved in the EU.”

Given that GM approvals around the world are expected to increase by 2015, Europe it expects the EU to continue experiencing problems of this kind of the policy does not change.

One to go…

While shipments from sources containing the now-approved maize varieties may now restart, the forth maize identified, MIR 604 from Syngenta, has yet to be passed by the Commission.

Insect-repellent MIR604 was the subject of a positive opinion from the European Food Safety Authority in July. The risk assessor’s GMO panel concluded that the intended uses in food and feed, import and processing (and not cultivation) would be unlikely to have any adverse effect on human or animal health or on the environment.

However last month the Commission to reach agreement on the proposal for its authorisation during the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. This means it must now be passed to the Council.