EU scientists reject German GM maize ban

SCP opinion further deepens contradictions in EU policy on deliberate release of GM organisms

The EU's scientific committee on plants (SCP) has rejected a submission by Germany justifying a unilateral ban on a genetically modified (GM) maize variety that has been granted EU marketing approval. The non-binding opinion underlines growing contradictions in EU regulation of GM crops, which are deeply unpopular amongst European consumers.

The GM maize in question is known as "event 176" and made by Novartis (formerly Ciba Geigy). It received EU marketing approval in early 1997 following favourable opinions from three scientific committees, including the SCP. It quickly became a focus for growing European controversy over GM crops, when Austria introduced a unilateral ban (ENDS Daily 6 February 1997), quickly followed by Luxembourg.

Based on renewed advice from the SCP and other scientific committees that there was no new evidence to support prohibition, the European Commission tried and failed in an attempt to get other member states to overturn the bans (ENDS Daily 16 April 1998). EU governments have since become even more cautious towards GM crop approvals.

Germany notified its ban on Novartis' 176 maize this April. It argued that new research showed risks that an antibiotic marker gene it contains could be transferred to bacteria in the environment. Furthermore, it said, non-target organisms such as butterfly larvae could be harmed by the maize pollen, which expresses a toxin gene taken from the "Bt" bacterium. The SCP has rejected both of these assertions and concludes that its original scientific assessment of the maize remains valid.

What will happen now remains unclear. Austria's ban on Novartis 176 maize remains in place despite the SCP's rejection of its arguments. Last year, Austria banned a second GM maize (Monsanto 810) after evidence emerged its pollen might harm Monarch butterfly larvae (ENDS Daily 21 May 1999). This ban too remains in place despite an SCP opinion that it is unjustified (ENDS Daily 19 October 1999).

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, the SCP, and its opinion on Germany's maize ban.

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