EU COMMISSIONERS have granted a licence for the importation and use of a GM maize – the insect resistant Bt11 variety from Swiss firm Syngenta.

The move brings an end to the five year moratorium on new approvals.

Speaking after the decision on Wednesday (May 19), food safety commissioner David Byrne insisted the commission was acting responsibly.

“GM sweet corn has been subject to the most rigorous pre-marketing assessment in the world,” he said.

“It has been scientifically assessed as being as safe as any conventional maize. Food safety is not an issue; it is a question of consumer choice.”

The moratorium was introduced in June 1999, when EU environment ministers said they would block any new applications until the EU had introduced proper labelling and traceability provisions.

These came into force on April 18.

“Labelling provides consumers with the information they need to make up their own mind. They are therefore free to choose what they want to buy,” said the commissioner.

The decision takes effect immediately, though it will be up to Syngenta to decide when to introduce the maize, which is for human consumption from tins.

Bt11 maize is already used in the EU in animal feed and processed products such as maize oil, having been approved under a previous body of legislation.

Bio-tech lobby group EuropaBio said the move was a “positive signal” for Europe.

“But it is only the first step on the road to unblocking the approval process,” said secretary general Johan Vanhemelrijck.

“We will have to wait to see whether further approvals, including those for cultivation, are forthcoming.”

But green lobby group Friends of the Earth said the first approval in five years would only harden consumer resistance to a product “that has been engineered to include a deadly insecticide”.

“There is no future for GM foods or crops in Europe,” said campaigner Adrian Bebb.

The Syngenta application for Bt11 maize was first submitted in Feb 1999.

Having cleared all scientific assessment hurdles, the dossier was presented to member states in the standing committee on the food chain last December, but they failed to give an opinion.

EU farm ministers were also unable to say “yes” or “no” at their last meeting in April.

The commission was therefore free to grant the import licence under its own powers.