EU delays decision on Italian GM food ban

Government must wait to see whether EU will enforce marketing of modified maize varieties

A committee of EU member state food safety experts has postponed a decision on whether to force Italy to reverse a national ban on use of four genetically modified (GM) varieties of maize in food.

"There was a feeling that it would be better to look at [the Italian] case in the context of the proposed strategy [on GM regulation] announced by commissioners David Byrne and Margot Wallström in July," the European Commission said in a statement after the meeting of the standing committee on foodstuffs.

The strategy involves introducing stronger guidelines on traceability and labelling of GMOs. It follows demands for extra controls from a sizeable minority of EU member states, which have been blocking new GMO approvals for over a year.

Italy banned the four maize varieties claiming that they had been wrongly classified as "substantially equivalent" to authorised non-GM varieties. They should therefore have been subject to a full risk assessment instead being "fast-tracked" onto the market, it said (ENDS Daily 7 August).

Last month, the EU's scientific committee on food said the ban, invoked under the so-called safeguard clause of the EU's 1997 "novel food" regulation, was not backed by any new scientific evidence and was therefore not justified (ENDS Daily 13 September).

Italian minister for Europe Gianni Mattioli yesterday welcomed the meeting's outcome, claiming that it had shown strong support for Italy's position. Germany, Denmark, Greece and Austria would have voted against any attempt to overrule the maize ban, he said, while Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden and France would have abstained.

Greenpeace said this effectively challenged the 1997 regulation and proved that the fast-track procedure was a "major loophole in the chain of EU law" on GM food. It called for all products which had been approved as substantially equivalent to be withdrawn from the market until proper risk assessments were carried out.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; Greenpeace EU unit, tel: +32 2 280 1400, and press release.

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