Scientist examines GM crops© Sipa Press/Rex/Shutterstock

EU member state experts have again failed to approve new licences for two new GM maize varieties to be grown in the European Union, meaning the applications will now be passed to farm ministers.

The varieties in question are insect-resistant Bt11 maize from Syngenta and 1507 maize from Dow-Pioneer, while MON 810 maize from Monsanto – which is already extensively grown in Spain – is also being considered for reauthorisation.

See also: GM cultivation looks more likely as Defra voices support

In keeping with previous votes, member states meeting in an appeals committee in Brussels on Monday (27 March) were split on the issue – with 30% of the vote in favour, 47% against and 23% abstaining.

This means the dossiers must now pass to a more senior level and are likely to be considered by EU farm ministers at their May council meeting.

Final decision

However, according to Arnaud Petit, director of commodities and trade with EU farmers’ body Copa, established voting patterns are likely to be repeated, and it will be left for the EU Commission to make a final decision.

That verdict is likely to be a positive one, Mr Petit predicts.

Even though granting a licence to cultivate GM crops in Europe is more controversial than just approving them for import and use in livestock rations, new legislation means individual governments can still opt out.

So far, 19 individual countries or regions have already declared they will not allow GMs to be grown on their territory – including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within the UK.

Reaction

Despite this, green lobby group Friends of the Earth (FoE) is already pressing the EU Commission to reject the licence applications outright

“Whether he likes it or not, the buck now stops with [commission president] Jean-Claude Juncker,” said Mute Schimpf, FoE food campaigner.

“He can put himself on the side of the majority of countries, citizens and farmers who do not want genetically modified crops, or he can back the mega-corporations behind the industrialisation of our countryside.”

But Monsanto spokesman Mark Buckingham said a decision to withdraw GM maize would be detrimental to Spanish growers, who now have one-third of their planted area down to MON 810.

“Research by the EU’s Joint Research Centre has shown how GM maize benefits them in terms of crop yield, gross margin and the environment,” he said.

Bio-industry body Europabio also called for Brussels to follow its own safety advice.

“The EU must stop letting politics trump science on GMOs once and for all, and give European farmers the choice to access safe and innovative GM products,” said agricultural director Beat Späth.