BRUSSELS - The European Commission was foiled Monday in its bid to force France and Greece to allow genetically modified maize from US biotech giant Monsanto to be grown in their fields.
Food chain experts from the EU member states, meeting in Brussels, could not reach agreement on whether to back or oppose the French and Greek refusal to allow the maize, which has been given the green light to be grown in Europe.
The standing committee on food chain and animal health "failed to reach a qualified majority in favour or against," the commission said in a statement.
Nine of the 27 EU nations supported the commission call for the ban to be lifted while 16 opposed it or abstained. Germany and Malta did not take part, a source at the meeting said.
Monsanto's MON810 strain is the only genetically modified crop approved in the European Union but last year France suspended its cultivation, invoking a "safeguard clause".
Greece used the same legal provision in 2006 and has extended it since then.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has said the maize is safe and there is no scientific evidence to justify the bans.
Without a solid mandate the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, will refer the matter to EU ministers to decide whether France and Greece should fall into line and allow the GM crop to be sown.
Monica Frassoni, co-leader of the Green group in the European parliament, urged vigilance against the commission's attempt to make member states allow GM crops to be grown.
"We must remain vigilant because it is not the first time that the commission has tried to force the hand of those member states that are most resistant to the growing of genetically modified maize," she said.
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"The challenge now is to secure a majority big enough to reject the commission's proposal."
Last week, France's food watchdog also concluded that the genetically modified Monsanto maize was safe, contradicting an earlier report that led to a ban on the maize.
The earlier expert report had said evidence had emerged that MON810 had an effect on insects, a species of earthworm and micro-organisms.
There was also concern that wind-borne pollen from MON810 could travel much further than previously thought, perhaps as much as hundreds of kilometres.
But the report was controversial: 12 of the 15 scientists who compiled it issued a statement complaining that their findings had been misrepresented.
EU environment ministers will on March 2 vote on whether to ask Austria and Hungary to lift a similar GM ban.
Divided over the GMO issue, the European Union in December adopted a series of measures aimed at overcoming their differences and reaching unified decisions.
The member states notably recommended that the EFSA should be Europe's final arbiter on the safety of GM crops, but with input from national bodies.
They also agreed that decisions should take into account the medium- and long-term environmental impact of any decision, not just the health aspects.