Green light for GM foods?

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Maize, Gm

After months of political wranglings GM sweetcorn could be on the
supermarket shelves by the end of the year with the European
Commission poised to end the five year unofficial ban on
genetically modified foods, writes Lindsey Partos.

In Brussels next week Commission officials will decide whether to clear entry into the EU25 bloc of the GM maize Bt 11 produced by Swiss biotech firm Sygenta. A green light would mark the end to the de facto moratorium​ that has blocked new GM foods into Europe since 1998.

"At the May 19 meeting the Commission will discuss Bt11 and is expected to make a decision,"​ a spokesperson for the Commission tells

Tough new rules on the labelling of GM ingredients were enforced last month. By providing the consumer with the choice to buy GM foods or not, the strict new labelling laws have paved the way for Brussels to authorise new GM foodstuffs.

A controversial subject that has seen national states divided, last month EU15 agriculture ministers failed to reach a qualified majority on the biotech Bt 11 imports. But in the absence of a qualified majority under the 'Comitology procedure' the Commission is now free to carry Syngenta's GM maize to legal status. Widely anticipated to occur next Wednesday at the Commission meeting.

"It is difficult to predict exactly, but I would imagine this [approval for Bt11] will be before the Commission in late May or early June,"​ a Commission spokesperson told a news conference last month.

Critics view the Commission's determination to push through approval of the new GM crop as caving into pressure from the US. Home to a massive GM farming industry where the Bt11 crop is cultivated, the US has accused the EU's de facto moratorium on GM foods as an illegal barrier to trade, taking the issue to a World Trade Organisation panel.

Grown in the US and Canada since 1996, and authorised for food and feed in the EU since 1998, Syngenta's biotech maize BT 11 is resistant to the European corn borer (ECB) Ostrinia nubilalis​ and the herbicide phosphinothricin (PPT). Agronomists pitch losses caused by the ECB in the US and Canada- damage and control costs -at $1 billion each year.

Grown commercially in over 100 countries, global maize production is in the region of 590 million metric tonnes. While only a small amount of whole maize kernel is consumed by humans, maize oil is extracted from the germ of the maize kernel.

Maize is also a raw material in the manufacture of starch. A complex refining process converts the majority of this starch into sweeteners, syrups and fermentation products. Refined maize products, sweeteners, starch, and oil are abundant in processed foods such as breakfast cereals, dairy goods, and chewing gum.

Related topics: Food safety and labeling

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