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Commission considers backing new GM crop despite gaps in its safety testing

31 October 2013
by greenpeace -- last modified 31 October 2013

According to media reports, the European Commission could back the cultivation of a new genetically modified (GM) crop in Europe, despite concerns by EU scientists about its impact on butterflies, moths and other pollinators, and despite substantial gaps in its safety testing.


European Commissioners are expected to reach a decision on whether to give their green light to the GM maize, known as 1507 and owned by Pioneer-DuPont, in a meeting in Brussels on 6 November. If this authorisation is granted, it will be the first GM crop in over three years with a permission to be grown in Europe.

The 1507 GM maize is genetically modified to produce a pesticide toxin known as Bt and to withstand a herbicide known as glufosinate ammonium. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recognised in 2011 that the Bt toxin could be harmful to butterflies and moths. EFSA has not assessed risks linked to 1507's tolerance to herbicides in accordance with EU requirements, but only recommended monitoring of impacts after its release into the environment.

Under EU law on GM crops, the EFSA must assess "possible effects on biodiversity and non-target organisms which any individual [GM herbicide-tolerant] crop may cause due to the change in agricultural practices (including those due to different herbicide uses)" (emphasis in original text).

In the United States and other countries, Pioneer markets 1507 as a glufosinate-tolerant crop, but has mostly dismissed the importance of this trait in Europe, arguing that it is only a by-product of the genetic engineering process.

Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: "Blindly rubber-stamping this GM maize would be a reckless decision by the Commission, putting biotech companies ahead of public safety. The EU food safety authority has not properly assessed risks associated with the GM maize's herbicide tolerance. Given its potential harm and the massive gaps in safety testing, Commissioners should reject it. The commercial flop of GM crop cultivation in Europe shows that consumers and farmers do not need it and do not want it."

On 26 September 2013, the General Court of the European Union criticised the Commission for an "undue delay" in the process to authorise or reject 1507, following a complaint by Pioneer [6]. The ruling does not prevent the Commission from re-considering its position and deciding not to recommend the authorisation of the GM maize. This recommendation will then go to EU governments who will make the final decision.

The last GM crop authorised for cultivation in the EU was an antibiotic-resistant GM potato in 2010. The crop was a commercial failure and BASF decided to withdraw it from the market. Since then, BASF and Monsanto have withdrawn all EU applications for GM crops for cultivation, except for Monsanto's MON810 maize, the only crop that is still grown in the EU (mostly in Spain).

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace. Greenpeace does not accept donations from governments, the EU, businesses or political parties.

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