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European Commission accused of clearing GM maize to please United States

(Friday, Jan. 30, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Andrew Osborn, The Guardian, 01/29/04: The European commission was accused of kow-towing to the United States yesterday by trying to dismantle the EU ban on new GM food by approving a variety of modified maize.

The commission approved the sale of a variety of canned genetically modified maize produced by the Anglo-Swiss firm Syngenta, which wants to import the food and sell it frozen and as corn on the cob as well as in tins.

The product is already on sale in the US, Canada, Australia and Switzerland, and EU scientists have concluded that it is "as safe for human food use as its conventional counterpart". EU states now have three months to endorse or reject the commission decision in the council of ministers.

If they cannot reach agreement the commission can use its power to step in and approve it anyway.

Britain intends to approve it. But Green campaigners insist that there is still no public appetite for GM food, and accuse the commission of merely doing Washington's bidding.

Clare Oxborrow, of Friends of the Earth, said yesterday: "The commission has caved in to pressure from the US and big biotech firms.

European consumers don't want GM food. If GM maize is imported it will make it harder for companies to supply GM-free food."

No new GM foodstuffs have been approved for consumption or cultivation in the EU since 1998, whena union-wide moratorium was imposed because of public unease about the technology.

But the commission argues that since then the EU has introduced tough rules on traceability and labelling, and it is now safe to approve new foodstuffs. The commission is also anxious to avert a trade war with the US, which has lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organisation against the ban.

Romano Prodi, the commission president, suggested that the commission would soon start approving other GM foodstuffs.

"The EU has put in place a clear, transparent and stringent system," he said in a statement. "It is only logical that this safe system continues to be applied in practice and that the EU moves ahead with pending authorisations."

Yesterday Belgian scientists raised concern about a variety of GM oilseed rape being considered by the Belgian government. They said it would be difficult to contain the crop, that its long-term effects on conventional crops were "hard to predict", and that it might have "negative consequences" for biodiversity.