BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has reaffirmed the safety of Monsanto's genetically modified, insect-resistant maize MON 863, rejecting the conclusions of a recent publication by the French CRIIGEN group of a revised statistical analysis of the 90 day rat study considered in the product's risk assessment.

According to EFSA, the publication "does not present a sound scientific justification in order to question the safety of MON 863 maize." Therefore, EFSA said, it sees "no reason to revise its previous opinion that the MON 863 maize would not have an adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment."

EFSA's new assessment is the latest of three recent, positive scientific opinions on MON 863 maize, following opinions of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and the French Sanitary and Food Safety Agency.

The same day, European Union member state representatives admitted stalemate after discussing an application for authorization of the genetically modified maize 59122 (Herculex RW), developed by Dow Chemical and its associated company Pioneer Hybrid Seed Company.

As has happened on numerous previous occasions when divided views among member states have prevented a decision, the application now will go before member state ministers. If they, too, are unable to reach a position within three months (as is likely), it will fall to EU officials to make a decision.

Meanwhile, the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside has been trying to rally further support for its campaign for a complete ban on GMOs in Europe. It has accused its own government of showing "a dangerous characteristic" in the recent European Union Council debate on thresholds for adventitious presence of GMOs in organic food, when the Polish minister agreed to a 0.9 percent level, instead of the 0.1 percent level that biotech sceptics had been calling for. "Sadly," said the ICPPC's Julian Rose, Poland's vote was crucial. "A vote the other way would have forced the council to accept the lower level."

Rose accused the Polish government of giving way to pressure from other EU countries and from biotech industry lobbying, and vowed to continue campaigning to prevent pro-biotech views from predominating in Europe. "Our task is to find new ways of exposing this necrophiliac expression of planetary care," he said.

A 2006 Polish ban on GMOs has been ruled illegal by the European Union, and the country now is introducing a new law that would allow commercial planting. Rose said this compromise solution threatens "betrayal." He said the outcome is significant for the whole of Europe and beyond, "because Polish farmers maintain a highly diverse - and informal - indigenous seed base which would be quickly wiped out if GMO were allowed to proliferate the countryside."

By contrast, a European Union initiative to support plant biotechnology was launched in Brussels on June 25. The Plants for the Future technology platform envisions European development of plant sciences and biotechnology to enhance EU competitiveness and welfare. It is a research agenda backed by scientists, farmers and industry,

Wilhelm Gruissem, president of the European Plant Science Organization, said "Europe must put its knowledge base in the field of plant science into practice to keep the European agricultural sector innovative and internationally competitive." And Serra Arias of the European Committee of Agricultural Organisations insisted that European farmers' need for more diversified and environmentally friendly crops "will be tackled through state of the art innovation, especially in plant biotechnologies."

European Union research ministers also agreed at their late-June meeting to create a European Institute of Technology.

The objective is to boost EU high-tech research, including biotechnology. But it still is unclear how the institute, inspired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be funded when it comes into being in 2008. Initial estimates foresaw more than €2 billion (US$2.7 billion) in setup costs, but EU member states and the private sector have so far shown reluctance to come up with the money.

European commission President José Manuel Barroso applauded the agreement, saying the new institute "will help drive a Europe of results." But the concept has been progressively diluted during a year of debate. It will no longer take the form of a university with its own professors and diplomas but as a network of "knowledge and innovation communities" bringing together universities, researchers and private companies. Nonetheless, Poland, Austria and Hungary already are competing vigorously to host the institute's administrative headquarters.