A majority of EU countries on Tuesday expressed opposition to the cultivation of a new genetically modified maize in Europe, yet the bloc's executive body, the European Commission, could be set to green-light the crop anyway.
At the meeting in Brussels, 19 countries, including France, said they were against the approval of Pioneer's GM maize known as 1507, and four countries abstained during the debate. The five who said they would vote in favor are Britain, Spain, Finland, Estonia and Sweden.
"For us it's an incomprehensible decision because the majority of EU member states do not want genetically modified maize," said Thierry Repentin, France's Europe minister.
The EU Observer explains that EU rules allow a law to be approved "if there is no qualified majority in the council of ministers rejecting it," noting that bigger members' votes are weighted more.
European Commissioner for Health Tonio Borg indicated to reporters after the meeting that the Commission would approve the new crop, though he left open the possibility that fresh evidence against it could bring new delays.
Environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth urged the European Commission to heed the strong opposition—both political and public—and ban the cultivation of the new GM maize.
"This is a clear signal: the public don't want GM, and nor do the majority of their elected politicians or governments," said Mute Schimpf, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe. "The European Commission must end its love-affair with biotech companies and their GM crops, and stop this toxic maize from reaching Europe's fields."
"The Commission cannot ignore the scientific, political and legal concerns voiced by a large majority of countries, by two thirds of the European Parliament and supported by most EU citizens," added Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero, who referenced potential legal challenges.
"The European Court of Justice would very likely overturn an authorization of this GM maize in a legal challenge, as it did with the latest Commission approval of the Amflora GM potato. The Commission must learn from its mistakes and stop breaching the rules that help ensure the safety of what is grown in Europe," Contiero stated.
Schimpf also pointed to the environmental risks the the new crop poses, stating, "Europe's own safety experts concluded that Pioneer's maize harms butterflies and moths, and that other impacts on our countryside are unknown."
"We don't need to take risks with untested and toxic GM crops when safer and more sustainable ways to farm are at hand," Schimpf added.
If Pioneer's 1507 gets Commission approval, it would join a GM corn made by Monsanto as the only GM crops under commercial cultivation in Europe.