EU orders Greece to lift GM ban
(GMO) maize seeds, setting the scene for yet another battle over
the controversial technology.
For while the Commission has the power to make its own ruling on the matter, Greece, along with a number of other Member States, has consistently voted against any new GMO authorisations.
EU law allows countries to decide whether to allow such seeds on national territory, although a ban must be approved by EU member states. When EU farm ministers fail to reach a consensus view on the matter however, the Commission can adopt its own proposed decision, as in this case.
The parent maize in question, MON 810, engineered by US giant Monsanto to resist certain insect pests, won approval for growing just before the EU began its biotech ban in 1998.
But in September 2004, the EU authorised 17 different seed strains of Monsanto maize from a parent crop known as MON 810 for planting and sale across EU territory, opening up bitter debate among Member States.
The Commission has now said that Greece does not have sufficient reasons to ban the Monsanto seeds, especially as EU scientists had already assessed MON 810 as safe for human health. It also said that Greece has not supplied the necessary scientific information to Brussels to support its ban.
The Biotech lobby has been demanding for months that Greece be brought to order. "Neither the Greek Government nor any of the authorities have provided any validated scientific evidence to support either a ban or withholding approval to use these products in food," said Simon Barber, director of the plant biotechnology unit at EuropaBio.
But opposition within Europe remains strong. UK-based pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE), which enjoys considerable public sympathy on this issue, says that ten years after the first significant planting of GM crops, no plants with benefits to consumers or the environment have materialised.
"GM crops are not 'green'," claims the new FoE international report.
"Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans, the most extensively grown GM crop today, has led to an increase in herbicide use. Independent reports from the US show that since 1996, GM corn, soybean and cotton have led to an increase in pesticide use of 55 million kilos."
It is clear that Member States still need to be convinced that introducing genetically modified ingredients into food production is acceptable. The Commission has asked EU members over ten times to vote on authorising a GMO food or feed product, but in the large majority of cases, there was no agreement or simple deadlock.
Luxembourg, Greece and Austria consistently vote against GMO approvals, while the UK, Finland and the Netherlands almost always vote in favour. And GM ingredients are still regarded with some suspicion by consumers in Europe and as such are used infrequently in food formulations by food manufacturers who do not want to see sales fall.
It seems likely therefore that the Greeks, who have consistently voted against any new GM authorisation, will appeal against the EC's order at the European Court of Justice, the bloc's highest court.