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EU closes in on approval of unpopular GM maize amid election fears

Europe
11.02.2014
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Brussels (dpa) - The European Union is set to approve the cultivation of a new form of genetically modified (GM) maize, even though two-thirds of its member states tried Tuesday to block the measure.

Fears are rife that the authorization would fuel support for anti-EU political parties ahead of key European elections in May, since GM crops have traditionally met with strong resistance in the bloc.

"It would be really fatal for the credibility of the European institutions," Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz warned during a debate in Brussels with his 27 colleagues.

"We will definitely help the campaign of the extreme right," predicted Hungary‘s state secretary for European affairs, Eniko Gyori.

"A majority of Europeans don‘t want GM maize," France‘s minister for European affairs, Thierry Repentin, had said earlier. "This would be incomprehensible for our fellow citizens."

But the ministers needed to muster a qualified majority to block the proposal, which they failed to attain after Britain, Estonia, Finland, Spain and Sweden supported the introduction of the GM maize and four countries - including heavyweight Germany - abstained.

Spanish Secretary of State Inigo Mendez de Vigo defended his country‘s decision by saying that the authorization of the GM crop would lead to a reduced use of insecticides and allow European farmers to "compete on an equal footing" with others in the world.

The final decision now rests with the EU‘s executive, the European Commission, which has argued that it has no choice but to approve the cultivation of maize 1507 - 13 years after seed manufacturer DuPont Pioneer first requested it.

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg told the ministers that his hands are tied given orders from EU courts to take action, the lack of a ban on GM crops in the bloc, and six opinions from the European Food Safety Authority declaring maize 1507 as safe.

Borg also pointed to the fact that the import of the GM maize, which is resistent to certain herbicides and pests, has already been approved for EU use in food and feed.

"How can something be dangerous if we cultivate it, but not dangerous if we eat it?" Borg asked the ministers. "But of course I know that this is a hot political potato."

Environmental group Greenpeace on Tuesday was among those raising the spectre of legal action if maize 1507 is authorized.

"The commission cannot ignore the scientific, political and legal concerns voiced by a large majority of countries, by two thirds of the European Parliament and supported by most EU citizens," said its EU agriculture policy director, Marco Contiero.

But Borg said the solution lies in ending the stalemate over a separate EU proposal that would make it easier for member states to bloc GM crops at a national level.

 

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