A New Unwanted Guest in Our Fields?

Despite the many concerns raised by civil society organizations and the general public about the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the scientific, political and legal reasons that lie behind these concerns; the European Commission continues to push the authorization of GM maize 1507.

News about GMOs, and related legislation, continues to alternate between good and bad. But in this case, the news is definitely bad. On November 6, the European Commission presented a proposal to the Council of Ministers to authorize maize 1507, owned by Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

The proposal was widely opposed by civil society. Organizations including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe, IFOAM EU Group, Euro Coop and Slow Food also expressed their concerns in a letter addressed to José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. Their opposition presents scientific, political and legal arguments.

Maize 1507 has been engineered to produce Bacillus thurigiensis Cry1F, a toxin intended to combat the European corn worm (a pest of grain, particularly maize) and to be resistant to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium. Both of these characteristics must be scientifically evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority, yet so far it has not expressed an opinion on the herbicide tolerance: a clear violation of the EU’s legal requirements.

At present, the cultivation of maize 1507 is banned, but its consumption by humans or animals is not. But is it safe for our health? Can it provide real solutions for environmental sustainability? What are its actual benefits? As on other occasions when GMOs have been discussed, many of the questions asked by European consumers have received no answer.

It is with great concern that we will follow developments in the coming months, and on December 13 – the day the Commission has asked that the issue be debated among the Member States during the meeting of the Environment Council. It is also with great concern that we read statements such as that made by Health Commissioner Tonio Borg: “The Court’s decision on maize 1507 confirms the urgency of reconciling strict and predictable European authorisation rules for GMO cultivation with fair consideration of national contexts. Three years ago, the Commission tabled a proposal, broadly supported by both the Parliament and the Council, to provide a solution to the current deadlock on the authorisation process. I therefore urge Member States to engage and support the Commission’s proposal, so that the Presidency and Council can form a compromise enabling the Cultivation proposal to move forward.”

For our part, Slow Food is convinced that we need strict and predictable rules regarding authorization, but that this strictness must take a completely different direction from that proposed by Borg.

Silvia Ceriani

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