21 February 1997

Publics maize view

defended

EU CONSUMERS have condemned the European Commissions decision to authorise the marketing of genetically modified maize grown in the US.

The commission has insisted that marketing approval for the GM maize, developed by Ciba-Geigy, was granted on the basis of scientific evidence.

But James Murray, of the Brussels-based EU consumers union BEUC, said consumer opposition was also based on science.

The GM maize has three introduced genes that have caused concern – an antibiotic-resistant marker gene, a Bt toxin gene and a gene that confers tolerance to the herbicide glufosinate ammonia.

No strong objection

Mr Murray said BEUC had "no strong objection" to the commissions assessment that the risk of increased antibiotic resistance among humans was low.

But antibiotic-resistant genes had no benefit. And, as a precaution, they should not be present in food or food products. And as the Bt gene effectively operated as a pesticide there was a risk that insects could develop resistance to the toxin, widely used as a pesticide in low-tech agriculture.

No adequate mechanisms existed to deal with these concerns and that was one of the reasons why the GMmaize should not have been approved, he said.

"If, as is likely, resistance develops we will lose a benign pesticide, and that is the problem rather than any direct problem to consumer health," said Mr Murray.

The issue also highlighted the lack of EU regulatory control over resistance management, and post-release monitoring and surveillance of GM crops.

"We do not have an adequate way of dealing with these concerns and we see this as one of the reasons why the maize should not have been approved at this time," said Mr Murray.

Another reason for consumer opposition was concern that the ammonium glufosinate tolerance would lead to increased herbicide use on the GM crop.

"This particular herbicide is soluble in water and our concern is that it will end up in the water supplies," said Mr Murray.