Maize imports free from illegal GMOs, says FSA

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) claims it has found no trace
of unauthorised genetically modified material in samples of
imported maize.

The European Commission introduced control measures in April 2005 to certify that imports are free of a strain called Bt10. Bt10 is very similar to authorised corn strain Bt11, but has not been approved for use in food or feed in the EU.

Its presence is therefore illegal in imports.

These traceability measures were put in place after Swiss biotech firm Syngenta warned it had accidentally sold the illegal Bt 10 in the US for four years, resulting in about 133 million kilogrammes of the maize making its way into food and feeds.

The European Commission then quickly issued emergency measures whereby imports of corn gluten feed and brewers grain from the US could only be placed on the EU market if they were certified to be Bt 10 free, which is not authorised in the EU. It said at the time it thought about 1,000 metric tons of the unauthorised strain of Bt10 corn, all grown in the US, had entered member states through animal feed, corn flour and corn oil.

However the results of this latest FSA test, published yesterday, will come as a relief to biotech companies eager to exploit growing European interest in the technology.

Indeed, the biotech industry believes that Europe is ripe for further development. The European sector generates 50 per cent more companies than the US year on year, according to EuropaBio, and the regulatory environment is becoming more and more conducive to growth.

This month, the EU ordered Greece to lift its ban on a GM seed manufactured by Monsanto, and also granted European approval for three Monsanto GM maize types. But consumer confidence must be won over if GM food is to become a regular fixture of the EU diet.

A total of 190 tests were carried out on 19 consignments of maize from various locations in the UK during four weeks in September/October 2005. This work was done in addition to testing that has already been carried out by local authorities.

All samples tested were negative for the presence of the unauthorised genetically modified organism Bt10.

When Bt10 contamination in the US came to light, Syngenta - the company that developed this GMO - provided safety data to the relevant authorities in the United States (US Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration).

The novel proteins produced by Bt10 were compared with those from Bt11 and it was concluded that they were identical. The US authorities announced that it was therefore satisfied that no safety concern existed.

Both varieties produce a bacterial toxin that kills insects, using the same inserted gene and producing the same protein. The only difference is the location of the inserted gene, Syngenta claims. But Bt10 remains illegal in the EU nonetheless.

Related topics: Europe, Safety, Regulation

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