US Agri-Giant Awaits First TimeClearance for GM Seeds in Europe
Prague - The Czech Ministry of Environment has postponed a decision on the application by US agriculture giant Monsanto Corp. for clearance for so-called 'Bt Maize' for commercial production until an expert commission gives its opinion. Monsanto, the world's largest supplier of GM seeds, is the first company to ask Czech authorities to approve commercial production of GM seeds - no European country has done this so far. The Bt Maize strain has the advantage of being toxic to the European corn borer, a common pest of the maize crop.
Currently Monsanto only grows this strain of maize experimentally in the Czech Republic at Branisovice, in South Moravia. The Czech Minister for the Environment Libor Ambrozek was originally expected to rule on the Monsanto application by the end of June but handed over the documents to the expert panel in July (see also page 36). According to government sources it is uncertain how long the commission could take to report back and when a final decision could be expected.
In the Czech Republic all food products containing GMOs must, according to new case-law since January 1, 2002, be cleared by the Ministry of Health. The products themselves must be labelled as “genetically modified” or containing “genetically-modified organisms”. More food made from genetically modified crops could be on the way following the July 2 decision of the European Parliament to drop its five-year ban on the introduction of new biotech products on the European Union (EU) market and allow GM foods into the EU as long as they are clearly labelled.
The Bt-toxin, a protein which is naturally expressed in the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, has the ability to destroy the intestinal wall of different varmints without harmfull side-effects for beneficial organisms. In humans most isoforms of Bt-toxin are non-toxic and digested very early in the gastro-intestinal tract. Only one Bt-toxin variant, called Cry9c, is suspected to cause allergic reactions. Back in September 2000 Cry9c-containing StarLinkTM corn by former Aventis CropScience caused a food scandal when it was found in the human food supply despite having been approved for animal feed use only.
Monsanto began field trials in the Czech Republic in August 2001 using herbizide resitant Roundup Ready wheat. While according to Czech media reports public support for the new technology was more widespread in the Czech Republic at that time than in other European countries, the Monsanto trial had aggravated the discussion. Especially Greenpeace objected to the trials. The environmentalists argued that Monsanto's wheat was likely to contaminate regular grown crops threatening the country's wheat export.