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EU ministers write letter to Commission asking for withdrawal of new GM maize proposal

Thursday, February 27, 2014 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: GM maize, European Commission, EU ministers

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(NaturalNews) Twelve European ministers have sent the health commissioner of the European Union a letter asking that the European Commission withdraw its proposal to approve a new strain of genetically modified (GM) maize known as "Pioneer 1507."

The GM corn strain, co-developed by DuPont Pioneer (formerly Pioneer Hi-Bred) and Dow Chemical, produces a pesticide in its tissues originally derived from the bacteria species Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). It is also resistant to the herbicide glufosinate ammonium.

If approved, Pioneer 1507 would be only the third GM crop ever approved for commercial cultivation in the European Union. Another variety of GM maize and a GM potato were formerly approved, although a court later blocked all cultivation of the potato strain. Opposition to GM crops is widespread throughout Europe, due to both health concerns and concerns over the crops' effects on the environment. Critics allege that GM crops encourage increased use of toxic herbicides, and that Bt varieties cause deaths of moths and butterflies, including threatened species.

Most EU countries oppose approval

When the proposal to approve Pioneer 1507 came up for a vote on Feb. 11, it was opposed by 19 of the European Union's 28 member countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Only five countries (Estonia, Finland, Spain, Sweden and the UK) supported the proposal, while four abstained (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany and Portugal).

Yet, because Germany carries so many votes in the EU Council, its abstention was enough to prevent the anti-GM forces from gaining a majority. As such, the EU Commission is authorized to approve Pioneer 1507.

Thierry Repentin, France's Europe Minister, warned the Commission against proceeding as if it actually has a mandate to approve the GM maize. Voters may react poorly, he said, to exploiting a loophole that allows a minority of countries to overrule a clear majority.

This was also the sentiment of a letter to the EU's health commissioner signed by the ministers of Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovenia and Malta. The letter notes that the majority of EU stakeholders, including member nations' parliaments, have repeatedly opposed the approval. It references a 1999 pledge on the part of the commission to not contravene a predominant majority.

"We are convinced that the Commission cannot ignore the legal, political and scientific concerns voiced by so many member states and the general political landscape," the ministers wrote. "We are therefore confident that, by considering the horizontal impact of the issue, the Commission will withdraw the proposal."

Greens gear up for a fight

The Green contingent of the European Commission has promised to pursue legal avenues to block the approval of the GM corn. The failure to achieve a majority in the council "underlines that there is no democratic mandate for authorising this GMO maize variety," said Green environmental spokesperson Bart Staes. One Green MEP (Member of the European Parliament) said approval would show "a disdain for the democratic process."

"If the Commission doggedly pursues the authorisation... we will launch a motion of censure in the European Parliament," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the European Parliament's Greens group.

If sponsored by one-tenth of all MEPs and approved by two-thirds, a censure motion would force the entire EU Commission to step down.

The Greens have also charge procedural irregularities that would invalidate the EU Council vote, noting that the EU executive changed the proposal just before the vote, thus preventing it from being read by the relevant committee. They are investigating legal avenues to get the vote tossed out.

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