By Philip Clarke
EU FOOD safety commissioner Markos Kyprianou has joined the criticism of bio-tech firm Syngenta for allowing some of its unapproved Bt10 GM maize to become mixed with its approved Bt11 variety.
In March, Syngenta admitted that several hundred tonnes of Bt10 had been sold to US farmers in the belief it was Bt11, and some of this entered the food chain and normal export channels (News, Apr 1).
The EU commission in Brussels has since stated that about 1000t of Bt10 food and feed products may have entered the EU, with another 10kg of seed exported for research purposes in Spain and France.
“The European Commission deplores the fact that a GMO, which has not been authorised through the EU”s comprehensive legislative framework, nor by any other country, has been imported into the EU,” said Mr Kyprianou.
He has written to the US authorities seeking guarantees that the situation will not be repeated.
But environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth has described the commission”s response as “too little, too late”, accusing it of going along with Syngenta”s initial assurances that the two GM varieties were identical, then changing tack when it emerged that they were not.
“For 10 days they haven”t taken action, even though it was public knowledge that a food unapproved for human consumption had entered the European food chain,” said FoE anti-GM campaigner Adrian Bebb. “The public expects and deserves better.”
The main difference between the two varieties is that Bt10 contains a marker gene resistant to the antibiotic ampicillin, while Bt11 does not.
Syngenta insists that this is not a health concern, pointing out that the same marker gene exists in approved GM maize varieties, such as Bt176.
It says the important consideration is what DNA protein is actually expressed in the plant, and in the case of Bt10 and Bt11 this is the same.
“The only difference is that the DNA in the Bt10 genome is in a slightly different location to that in the Bt11 genome,” said a spokesman. The commission last week asked Syngenta for full information about the molecular characteristics of the two varieties, and the specific detection methods for tracing Bt10.
As farmers weekly went to press on Wednesday, a commission spokesman said it was still awaiting a response.