BRUSSELS -- April 15 -- The European Union has today introduced emergency measures restricting the import of animal feeds from the United States. EU member states voted almost unanimously for proposals that only permit shipments from the US that are certified free of an illegal genetically modified (GM) maize. (1) With no means to test reliably for the contamination, and no segregation from the US, the measures are likely to result in a de facto ban on the import of US maize-based animal feeds for the foreseeable future.
The agrochemical firm Syngenta admitted three weeks ago that it had sold unlicensed GM seeds - called Bt10 - to US farmers for four years, and that this illegal maize entered Europe. Syngenta has since refused to make public the information needed for governments to test food and feed imports for the illegal GM maize.
The new EU law is applicable to US imports of gluten feed and brewers grains (animal feeds) that are produced from GM maize. It states that "Despite requests made by the Commission, the US authorities were not in a position to provide any guarantee on the absence of "Bt10"...considering the lack of segregation or traceability measures in the United States..."
Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth said:
"Europe now has a de facto ban on the import of many US animal feeds. Today's emergency measures will be unpopular with US Government and the biotechnology industry but will start to protect Europe from more contaminated products. Syngenta must now come clean and give European countries the information needed to reliably test for illegal contamination in foods and animal feeds already imported into the EU."
"The public should never have been exposed to an untested and illegal genetically modified crop. This incident exposes an incompetent and complacent industry, an absence of regulation in the United States and a breakdown in Europe's monitoring of food imports. Immediate action is needed at an international level to prevent further contamination in the future."
Whilst Friends of the Earth is backing the EU measures, it is urging the European Commission to go further and:
- Urgently review the EU's monitoring system to guarantee public protection from unapproved GM products in the future
- Demand a public investigation into how a biotechnology company can for 4 years sell the wrong seeds without anyone knowing
- Insist that Syngenta, the polluter, pays for all testing in Europe and not the public.
The incident was first made public through an article in Nature on 22 March (2). Between 2001 and 2004 Syngenta sold several hundred tonnes of a GM maize seed, called Bt10, to US farmers, mistaking it for another GM maize, Bt11. Unlike the Bt11 maize, Bt10 has not been approved for human consumption anywhere in the world. It has been estimated that around 1000 tonnes of the illegal GM maize entered the European food chain and was even planted at test sites in Spain and France.
Syngenta claimed that the Bt10 maize was "physically identical" to Bt11, a view initially endorsed by governments and the European Commission. Friends of the Earth disagreed, pointing out that the unapproved GMO also contained a controversial antibiotic resistance gene, which confers resistance to an important group of antibiotics.
Syngenta finally admitted that this was indeed the case (3).
Contact: Adrian Bebb, + 49 1609 490 1163 (mobile)Geert Ritsema +31 629 005 908 (mobile)
(1) Member states voted in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health
(2) The original Nature article can be found at: http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050321/full/nature03570.html
(3) Bt 10 contains the amp gene, which confers resistance to the ampicillin family of antibiotics. In recent guidance, the European Food Safety Authority stated that GMOs containing this gene should not be approved for cultivation and their use restricted to field trials.