6 December 1996

Ban GMmaize from USA, call Opposition MPs

OPPOSITION parties have demanded a ban on the import of all maize from the US until concerns over a new genetically modified (GM) variety are resolved.

The calls follow concerns about the prospect of imports of GM maize containing an antibiotic resistant marker gene which has raised fears over the transfer of drug resistance to livestock and humans.

MAFFs expert advisers are satisfied that the processed food products contain no viable genetic material. But they have said that the use of fresh GM maize as a livestock feed is unacceptable.

Labour and the Lib-Dems want to ban imports of all maize unless the GM variety can be segregated.

EU environment ministers are next week set to discuss the lifting of the commissions ban on the import of unprocessed GM maize from the USA.

The Environment Council is expected to receive the findings of three scientific studies ordered by the commission into the safety of the GM maize, modified for resistance to the UScorn borer and the herbicide, glufosinate-ammonium.

The GMmaize has already been cleared for production and use in the USand Canada and for import into Japan.

The commission decided to temporarily ban all US unprocessed maize imports harvested in 1996 even though just 0.5% of this years maize harvest will be derived from GM seeds.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the UK would abide by the commissions decision once the results of the studies by the ECs scientific committees on food, animal nutrition and pesticides were known.

"Our objection refers solely to unprocessed maize. Once the maize has been processed, in products such as maize gluten and maize meal, the modified gene becomes inert and there is absolutely no health risk."

"If the commission says the ban should be lifted, we will go along with that. And if they decide there is a risk and maintain the ban, we will again go by that decision."

Earlier this week, MAFF advised the UK feed trade organisation UKASTA that the importation and use in animal feedstuffs of maize gluten feed from the States was permissible, safe and legal.

But animal feed firms have still secured maize by-products from Latin America and Europe for customers while the commission makes up its mind.

Dalgety Agriculture said it had secured supplies of maize gluten and other similar by-products free from genetically modified material to meet customers needs until the end of December.

"We are hopeful that the commission will have concluded its deliberations by mid-December and that it will unequivocally clear the use of US96 crop maize by-products," said a spokesman.