GM experts fail to reach decision on French maize ban

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

The divisive GM issue rumbles on at a European level with an EU expert committee failing to reach an agreement to lift French and Greek national bans on the cultivation of a Monsanto maize crop.

Authorised for cultivation in 1998, MON810 is the only genetically modified maize crop so far that farmers can grow commercially on EU soil.

The vote of experts on Monday failed to reach a qualified majority - either 255 for or against – which means the decision is now passed to the EU Council of ministers.

Following recent bans by France and Greece on the US biotech maize the European Commission had asked its risk assessor, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), to further evaluate the maize and to conclude whether the bans were appropriate.

In November last year the GMO panel of experts at EFSA concluded there was "no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, was provided that would justify" ​the bans.

Following EFSA's evaluation, the EU's executive arm asked its committee on genetically-modified food to vote on an order for the two countries to lift their national bans.

Reflecting the deep divisions that GM technology evokes, on 16 February the committee failed to reach a majority.

The decision now falls to the Council of ministers, and while the timeline is as yet unclear, this could by the end of March.

If the council fails to deliver an opinion resulting from a qualified majority, the Commission can enforce its own original proposal.

Le Figaro article sparks new MON810 debate

The GM debate heated up this month in France after a story broke in French newspaper Le Figaro claiming the country's food safety agency, AFSSA had found MON810 did not pose a risk to human health.

After evaluating a report from Professeur Yvon le Maho, used as scientific weight by France when it imposed the MON810 ban in 2008, the agency did not find any health risks to the insect-resistant maize.

And as the debate escalated last week French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said the safeguard ban had been imposed as a result of environmental concerns, not 'sanitary' risks.

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