EU scientists back Bt modified crops

Committee finds no new evidence to support suggested risks to butterflies of insecticidal crops

Evidence published this spring that crops genetically modified to express a toxin gene from the "Bt" bacterium could harm non-target butterfly species "does not constitute new significant information" that would warrant a reassessment of EU authorisations for Bt crops, the EU's principal scientific advisors on plant-related issues have concluded.

The scientific committee on plants was asked to comment on the issue after American scientists reported that pollen from a maize genetically modified to express the Bt toxin harmed larvae of the Monarch butterfly (ENDS Daily 21 May).

The news led to a public uproar. European environmental groups pressed for existing EU licences for Bt crops to be withdrawn and the European Commission froze further progress towards authorisation for a new Bt maize variety made by Pioneer. Cementing its position as the most "gene-sceptic" EU member, Austria banned an EU-authorised Bt maize made by Monsanto (ENDS Daily 28 May).

After reviewing evidence supplied by Austria in support of its ban, the scientific committee has decided that no new information was submitted that it had not already considered, and that "the previous risk assessment stands unchanged". It also concludes that "this information does not invalidate [the committee's] original risk assessments for the other Bt products".

The Commission will now be under pressure to move to overturn Austria's ban on Monsanto's MON810 maize variety, even though it has failed in over two years to achieve a similar outcome over Austria's 1997 ban on a different Bt maize variety (ENDS Daily 6 February 1997).

The committee's advice also makes it more likely that authorisation proceedings for other Bt crops could restart or continue, though it is not clear on what timescale this might happen, since a majority of EU countries agreed to a quasi moratorium on new GM crop permits this summer until the EU "deliberate release" directive is revised (ENDS Daily 24 June).

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. References: Opinion on Austrian ban on MON810.

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