BRUSSELS, Belgium - A senior European Union advisory body has dismissed Italian government concerns over the safety of seven genetically modified food products on the market in the EU.

The Scientific Committee on Food said the anxieties were unjustified, and it overruled public health arguments put forward by Italian scientists for suspending the products. For the moment, however, an Italian sales ban continues on oils from three genetically modified oilseed rape varieties and processed products from four GM maize varieties.

Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato banned sales of these products, despite the fact that they had received due authorization from the European Commission for marketing throughout the EU. Amato had been acting in response to attacks from Italian environmental politicians and activists, backed up by the Italian National Health Council. The Italian Ministry of Health claims that up to 280,000 tonnes of genetically modified product would have been imported into Italy if the government had not vetoed sales.

The Italian ban is based on a safeguard clause of the EU's 1997 Novel Foods Regulation, which states that "if a member state has detailed grounds as a result of new information or a reassessment of existing information for considering that the use of a food or a food ingredient endangers human health or the environment, that member state may either temporarily restrict or suspend the trade of the product in question on its territory."

The ban is currently under review by the other member states and the European Commission. The scientific committee advice is that the Italians have provided no detailed scientific grounds for considering that the use of these types of foods or food ingredients endanger human health. The matter will now be discussed at the EU's Standing Committee on Foodstuffs, probably at its next meeting Oct. 18-19. But Brussels officials say the rejection of the Italian scientific arguments is likely to lead to a new confrontation between the EU and national authorities.

The four varieties of genetically modified maize that are banned from sale in Italy are maize Bt11 - which contains a gene, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) against the larva of the European corn borer - produced by the Swiss group Novartis; Mon810 (Maisgard) from Monsanto; Mon8O9 from the U.S. group Pioneer; and T25 from Agrevo. Maize Mon810 is authorized for sale in the U.S., Canada, Japan and Argentina. It is authorized as an animal feed in the EU, but it has no EU authorization for use as seed.

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