GENET archive


2-Plants: European Commission unable to stop unauthorised GMO

                                  PART I
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TITLE:  Commission unable to stop unauthorised GMO
SOURCE: EUObserver, by Filipe Rufino
DATE:   4 Apr 2005

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Commission unable to stop unauthorised GMO

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - A European Commission spokesperson admitted today
(4 April) that the EU does not have the detection methods to stop
unauthorised maize imports from entering its borders.

Known by the technical name of Bt10, the genetically modified maize
entered the EU food chain as it was mistaken for the Bt11 strain, another
enhanced corn strain legal in the EU since 1998.

"At the moment we cannot distinguish BT10 from BT11 because we do not
have the detection methods", admitted the Health and Consumer protection
Spokesman Philip Tod, today. "We have a method to detect Bt11, but not
for Bt10 because it is not an authorised product", he explained.

The Commission expects to receive the detection methods for Bt10 "in the
course of this week", the spokesman said, which are to be provided by
Syngenta, the Swiss biotech company and Bt10 developer.

The methods will then be provided to the members states so that they can
detect the strain at their own borders.

Resistant to antibiotic

Officials from Syngenta admitted last Thursday (March 31) in a meeting
with the EU Commission that that Bt10 strain contains a gene resistant to
the widely used antibiotic ampicillin, but played down the probability of
this resistance passing into consumers' bodies.

According to, a US network of US Certified Physicians,
ampicillin is "one of the most widely prescribed antibiotics" used to
treat infections of the middle ear, sinuses, bladder, kidney, meningitis,
and "other serious infections".

According to the environmental group Friends of the Earth, Bt10 also
contains an insecticide, and has not been approved for human consumption
anywhere in the world.

Test sites in France and Spain

Reacting to the news, EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner
Markos Kyprianou said: "The European Commission deplores the fact that a
GMO which has not been authorised through the EU's comprehensive
legislative framework for GMOs, or by any other country, has been
imported into the EU".

Up to 10 kg of the illegal seeds were shipped from Syngenta's US
facilities to tests sites in Spain and France for "research purposes"
between 2001 and 2004, that got mixed up with the Bt11 seed, the US
authorities and Syngenta admitted.

"We have received assurances from Syngenta that those crops have all been
identified and that the stocks of Bt10 have been blocked", Mr Tod said.

Yet around 1000 metric tonnes of the Bt10 food and animal feed products
may have entered the European food chain since as far back as 2001, the
Commission confirmed.

During the same period, about 150 square kilometres of the crop were
repeatedly planted over four years in the US, says Nature Magazine (GM
seeds need to be bought every year, rather than being gathered from the
previous year's crops).

No sanctions

Although it has admitted its inability to distinguish one seed from the
other, the Commission ruled out temporarily halting Bt10 imports. "The
commission believes that would be a disproportionate measure at this
point", Mr Tod said.

The US Mission to the European Union informed the Commission on the mix-
up on 22 March and the accidental release in the US of Bt10 maize.
Information which was passed to the Member States immediately through the
EU's Rapid Alert System for food and feed.

Yet the US authorities did not warn the Commission about Bt10's
antibiotic resistant gene. Commission officials "were informed for the
1st time" that the maize contained a gene conferring resistance to
antibiotic Ampicillin on Thursday (March 31), according to Mr Tod.

The EU Commission, which has no power to punish Syngenta, sent a letter
to the company protesting against the mistake and calling for the US
government to ensure that "all necessary measures" are taken to prevent
Bt10 entering the EU.

Another letter was sent "to the highest levels" of the US Administration,
who were also unaware of the mix-up, urging them to make sure Bt10 crops
do not enter the EU.

The spokesman dismissed any EU measures against Syngenta, saying "that
would be a matter for US authorities".

According to Reuters, these types of maize are mainly used in animal feed
rather than in food production. EU regulations say that all GMO feed and
foods must be labelled as such, but there is no requirement to label
products obtained from animals fed with GMOs or treated with GMO
medicinal products.

"The European Commission's response is too little and too late. For ten
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. The public expects and deserves better", said Adrian Bebb, GMO
spokesman for environmentalist group Friends of the Earth.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Europe Leaves Modified Corn Inquiry to U.S.
SOURCE: The New York Times, USA, by Paul Meller
DATE:   5 Apr 2005

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Europe Leaves Modified Corn Inquiry to U.S.

RUSSELS, April 5 - Despite public abhorrence in Europe of all things
genetically modified, European officials say they will let the United
States take the lead in untangling how unapproved corn entered Europe
over the last four years.

Syngenta, the Swiss biotechnology company that produced the corn, said
late in March that it had inadvertently mixed up two types of its
genetically modified corn.

One type, known as Bt-11, has been legal for years in both the United
States and Europe. But a similar strain, Bt-10, has never been tested or
approved. The main difference between the two strains is that the
unapproved one contains a gene that confers resistance to the antibiotic
ampicillin. Environmentalists fear that introducing it into the food
chain could increase resistance to antibiotics.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, said
Friday that it thought about 1,000 metric tons (1,102 tons) of an
unauthorized strain of corn entered union countries in the forms of
animal feed, corn flour and corn oil. Syngenta discovered its mistake in
December, but informed the Europeans only last month, after a report in
the journal Nature.

A spokesman for the European commissioner for health and consumer
affairs, Philip Tod, said on Monday: "The commission has written a letter
of protest to Syngenta, also asking for their cooperation in tracking
down the Bt-10 corn in Europe, but beyond that we are not planning any
other measures. It's a matter for the U.S. authorities."

Syngenta, based in Basel, Switzerland, said farmers produced 165,000 tons
of the unapproved Bt-10 strain of corn on 37,000 acres in the United
States from 2001 through the end of last year, thinking that they were
producing Bt-11, its approved cousin. Both strains have a protein that is
toxic to the European corn borer.

In mid-December, the company discovered the error while conducting tests,
a spokeswoman, Sarah Hull, said, adding, "We immediately notified the

The United States Department of Agriculture consulted with the Food and
Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to see
whether a recall was warranted. The agencies decided against it, seeing
no threat to humans, animals or plants.

In Europe, officials were trying to figure out where the corn might have
gone, Mr. Tod said, adding: "We can't say whether or not the imports of
this corn have stopped or not. Because this Bt-10 corn was labeled as the
legal Bt-11 strain, we have no idea where it arrived in the union or
where it ended up."

The European commissioner for health and consumer affairs, Markos
Kyprianou, in language considered unusually frank for European diplomacy,
said, "We deplore the unauthorized imports of this corn."

The Agriculture Department denied that it deliberately kept authorities
in other parts of the world in the dark. "There was no cover-up," a
spokesman, Jim Rogers, said, adding it was normal not to release
information while an investigation continued. Mr. Rogers said those
inquiries would be concluded in coming weeks.

The European Commission has asked Syngenta to disclose the corn's
molecular structure so scientists in Europe can help isolate it.

The Agriculture Department can fine a company as much as $500,000 for
selling unauthorized crops, Mr. Rogers said, even if the company was not
aware that it was selling an unauthorized product.

Europeans tend to be more suspicious of genetically modified food than
Americans are. National governments refused to approve any of the
genetically modified products, leaving the final decision to the
commission, because they fear a backlash at the ballot box, said Adrian
Bebb, a campaigner against genetically altered products for the advocacy
group Friends of the Earth.

"This episode involving Syngenta's corn will make people even more
suspicious," Mr. Bebb said. "It shows a complete breakdown in the
monitoring system." He urged American authorities to take action against
Syngenta and European lawmakers to review the procedures for allowing
imports into member countries.

Mr. Rogers, taking a different view, declared, "This situation shows that
the system does work in the way the regulations say it should work: the
company reported this to us."

He added that he believed Syngenta informed American authorities as soon
as it could, "but they are getting the benefit of the doubt on that."


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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