BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union has authorized the marketing of three GM oilseed rapes but also withdrew authorizations of five other genetically modified products that are no longer being sold.

The authorization covers the import and the use of Bayer's Ms8, Rf3 and Ms8xRf3 oilseed rapes as animal feed, but not for cultivation or food uses. Bayer's initial request in January 2003 included cultivation, but that was turned down by the Belgian authorities.

The products are genetically modified to be tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium, and contain no antibiotic resistance marker gene. Their use will have to be clearly labeled on any products containing them, to provide operators and consumers with the information they need to decide whether to buy the product. Post-marketing rules will ensure that the products can be traced and monitored once they are on the market, via unique identifiers assigned to them. The decision is valid for 10 years, and includes measures to be taken by Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer to prevent any damage to health and the environment in the event of accidental spillage.

The authorization comes after the products have been subject to EU pre-market risk assessment, and scientific evaluation by the 27 EU member states and the European Food Safety Authority. The official verdict is that they are as safe as any conventional oilseed rape. Processed oil derived from those GM oilseed rapes already has been approved for food use in 1999 and 2000 in the EU. This is only the sixth authorization decision to be issued under the EU's 2001 rules on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs. And like the previous decisions, it comes by default, after EU ministers failed to reach a majority decision on the application.

The five products formally withdrawn are Bt176 maize (from Syngenta), Monsanto's GA21xMON810 maize, Ms1Rf1 and Ms1Rf2 oil seed rapes (originally from Aventis, and taken over by Bayer), and Topas 19/2 oil seed rape (also from Bayer). The companies involved have not applied to renew the authorizations on those "first-generation" products, which expire on April 18.

Although the manufacturers said that all stocks of food and feed derived from those GMOs have been used up, the EU is requiring the firms involved to identify and withdraw seeds of any of these GMOs from the market - since the possibility remains that some food and feed products on the market still may contain trace amounts. In recognition of the time that this will require, the EU simultaneously has decided that adventitious presence of up to 0.9 percent of these five GMOs will be allowed in food and feed products in the EU for the next five years.

The European biotech industry association EuropaBio remained bullish despite the withdrawals. "EuropaBio's member companies remain fully committed to developing improved crop varieties using genetic modification. When approved by the EU's regulators for placing on the market, these will complement those existing GM crops that have, since 1998, seen an increasing yearly demand from, and been grown by an increasing number farmers in European member states," it said in a statement. It also welcomed as "a decisive step in the right direction" the decision to allow for adventitious presence during a transition period after product withdrawal.

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