EU Drops Ban on GMO Seeds
European Commission also ends ban on labeling of conventional seeds
BRUSSELS, Belgium - 09/13/04 - For the first time ever, the European Union has approved the planting and sale of genetically-modified (GMO) or biotech seeds throughout its 25-member states.
At the same time, the EU also dropped a proposal on how much GMO material may be tolerated without labeling in batches of conventional seed - a controversial requirement that has bounced between the European Commission's various departments for over a year.
The move authorizes the cultivation of 17 different strains of corn seed developed by the US-based international conglomerate Monsanto Co.
The corn seeds were from a parent crop that had been approved before the European Union established its ban against biotech foods in 1998.
In a statement, EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said the corn "is safe for human health and the environment, and has been grown in Spain for years without any known problems."
However, the commission withdrew its proposal setting purity levels for labeling of seed containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Before the ruling, the GMO seeds only had national authorizations issued by France and Spain. The ban meant that only farmers in those countries could buy and plant them.
The decision comes as the contents of a French food safety agency AFSSA - Agence Fran硩se de S飵rit頓anitaire des Aliments - study has concluded that crops developed through biotechnology "might benefit human health."
According to an attach頲eport posted recently on the DOC's website, the recently published French government study stated that crops developed with resistance to insects "would reduce farmers' and consumers' exposure to harmful pesticides and molds."
The French study also said that because genetically modified corn has less insect damage, "fewer molds can develop, especially benefiting corn-fed cattle raised for human consumption."
The study, which was reportedly conducted by analyzing scientific reports from various sources focusing on the production and processing of biotech crops, also said the scientific development of Vitamin-A enriched biotech rice should be supported, adding that such rice is not a "utopia" but a "reality."
According to the USDA website, the authors of the report studied four cases - the insect resistant corn, the glyphosate resistant sugar beet, the Vitamin A enriched rice, and some genetically modified micro-organisms.
The report said that cultivation of biotech crops, especially insect resistant crops, "allows farmers to reduce their uses of pesticides," adding that "this is especially true for cotton, and to a lesser extent, for corn."
The AFSSA underlines that development of biotech crops in developing countries would be especially beneficial to the health of farmers, because most farmers apply pesticides without proper protective outfit.
The report was more cautious on the development of genetically engineered micro-organisms - "the lack of scientific data does not allow the experts to conclude on the potential benefits or danger of these products."
The French government document broadened the heated debate in the EU on GMOs to include the technology's potential benefits by concluding "that even though no health problems have been linked to a biotech crop to date, such risks cannot be precisely identified or quantified."
But, it said, any scientific evaluation of the overall potential risk of biotech crops "is arduous since no health problem such as toxicity or allergy has ever been directly linked to a biotech crop."
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