Italy, France and UK struggle over GM crops

Italy stops GM maize sales; France to pull up soya while Greenpeace sues; UK government criticised

The Italian cabinet decided on Friday to suspend marketing of four genetically modified (GM) maize varieties already approved by the EU. The cabinet announced the suspension as a "precautionary measure," but Italian biotechnology trade association, Assobiotec, said the decision had "no legal or scientific basis". A spokesperson for the European biotechnology industry told ENDS Daily that Italy's decision was "a breach of EU law" and called on the Commission to take legal action.

Meanwhile, the French government has announced that 46 hectares of commercial soya will be destroyed following the discovery of GM contamination at 0.8-1.5%. The government said that destruction has been ordered because no GM soya has yet been authorised for cultivation in the EU and the contamination level is above a 0.5% limit proposed by the Commission for seed purity. It also pointed out that the soya in question was destined for France's own soya seed production.

In a related development, French environmental groups have attacked the government for not requiring destruction for thousands of hectares of GM-contaminated maize last month (ENDS Daily 17 July), having done so earlier when similar contamination was discovered in rapeseed (ENDS Daily 19 May). Greenpeace France has also announced legal action against the American seed firm that sold the contaminated maize seedstock, arguing that Golden Harvest knew in February that maize seeds were contaminated and distributed them anyway.

In the UK, a cross-party committee of British MPs last week called for a review of separation distances between GM crops test sites and conventional crops. In a report sparked by this year's scandal over GM-contaminated rapeseed, the MPs also accused the government of "confusion" in its response to the crop contamination.

The committee said the government should test seeds due to be planted this month for the winter rapeseed crop, in order to ensure that a second bout of contamination does not occur. A UK government spokesperson told ENDS Daily that "spot checks" of all seeds entering the country were now taking place and that a review of separation distances between both GM test crops and all other crops, including organic ones, had begun.

Finally, the UK's scientific committee advising on agricultural and other environmental releases of live GM organisms has published an overview of its activities last year.

Follow Up:
EuropaBio, tel: +32 2 735 0313; House of Commons agriculture committee. tel: +44 20 72 19 32 62; the committee's report on GMOs and seed segregation; ACRE, tel: +44 20 79 44 52 75.

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