Green light from Brussels for GM corn in food formulations

Related tags Gm Maize Food

GM starch and corn oil are cleared for use in European food
formulations after Brussels gives the green light on a genetically
modified maize line from US biotech giant Monsanto, reports
Lindsey Partos.

Facing the fury of anti-GM campaigners, earlier this year the Commission broke the de facto​ moratorium on GM foods and pushed through approval, the first, for a GM sweetcorn supplied by Swiss biotech firm Syngenta to enter the food chain. Monsanto's clearance marks the second.

The biotech firm's NK603 maize had already been approved for import and use in animal feed in Europe, but with both approvals in place food makers can now use the maize and its derivatives in a raft of food products. The GM sweetcorn cannot be cultivated in Europe.

David Byrne, the Commissioner responsible for health and consumer protection, claims a clear labelling system​ now in place for GM foodstuffs in Europe means that "consumers can now choose whether or not to buy any genetically modified products". Opening the door to allowing new GM products onto the marketplace.

But the unpopularity of biotech crops in the minds of the European consumer means the food industry has been slow to embrace the GM food sources on the grounds of simple business sense. Food manufacturers keen to keep sales afloat will reject any use of genetically modified sources in their formulations, and consequently any need to GM label.

A recent survey polled by the UK's consumer magazine Which? found that consumers in the UK feel even more strongly about GM foods than they did two years ago and more than six out of 10 people (61 per cent) were concerned about the use of GM material in food production - up from 56 per cent in 2002.

Shoppers are not only concerned about GM ingredients in food; 68 per cent want manufacturers to go one step further and source non-GM animal feed, so meat and dairy products would have no links with the GM process.

Although the member states had earlier failed to give the green light for the Monsanto GM NK603 corn, the Commission pushed approval through under a facet of European law known as the 'comitology procedure' - when the European council of ministers fails to reach a majority decision, the Commission itself can force it through.

Critics suggest the Commission move is for the most part political, linked to pressure from the US - a leading global supporter and supplier of GM food crops - that continues to push Europe into accepting GMOs into the food chain. The US charges that its biotech farmers are losing billions of dollars in trade as the borders to Europe remain closed.

In 2000 the US cleared the NK603 maize, designed for increased tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in the Monsanto herbicide Roundup, for crop production. Japan and Canada gave the green light for production of NK603 in 2001, and all these countries allow its use in human food and animal feed. Australia joined the club in 2002 when it cleared the way for NK 603 use in food, although it is still banned in animal feed and crop production.

Non-GM maize, or corn, is grown commercially in over 100 countries, with a combined global harvest of about 590 million metric tonnes. Major producers of maize in 2000 were the US, China, Brazil, Mexico, France, and Argentina. Maize is grown primarily for its kernel, which is largely refined into products used in a wide range of food, medical, and industrial goods.

Related topics Food safety and labeling

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