Europe wriggles free from Monsanto's GM takeover, for now

Environment Ministers have temporarily blocked the genetically modified oilseed rape from Europe produced by American biotech giant Monsanto following a vote.

Ministers were asked to vote by the European Commission after Member State experts failed to reach a decision on the matter earlier this year. A majority of EU Environment Ministers blocked the approval of the import of GM oilseed rape GT73, which was modified to resist Monsanto's own chemical herbicide.

The application from Monsanto was recently supported by a positive opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which was criticised for being biased in favour of the biotech industry in a report from environmental organisation Friends of the Earth (FoE) Europe (see related story).

According to FoE, the decision by the EU shows that Member States do not fully support the EFSA opinions, and Europe continues to remain deeply divided over the safety concerns about GM food.

In the case of GT73, the main safety concerns centred around two main issues:

  • The safety of GT73 remains unresolved. Official UK Government advisors are still not satisfied with Monsanto's explanation for the increase liver weight of rats fed GT73, and remain unconvinced by EFSA's statement that GT73 "is as safe as conventional oilseed rape for humans, animals, and in the context of the proposed uses, the environment".
  • Illegal seed spills of GT73 into the environment are likely to happen, which would lead to negative effects on biodiversity in Europe.

    However, since Ministers did not reach the qualified majority of 232 votes to stop Monsanto's application completely, it is now up to the EC to make the final decision about the approval of GT73.

    GMO coordinator for FoE, Geert Ritsema, urged the Commission to follow the example of the majority of EU Environment Ministers and vote against Monsanto's application.

    "Ignoring the opinions of 19 Environment Ministers would be a bad starting point for the new Commission," she warned. "There is clearly a bid difference in opinion between the Member States and the Commission and its food safety authority."

    "Genetically modified food will haunt the new Commission for its whole term unless it gets to grips with the issue and the public concerns surrounding it."

    By Jane Kettle

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