|BRUSSELS - The European Union on Wednesday played down fears about the impact of an unauthorised strain of US genetically modified maize, saying it was similar to a type already approved.|
This week, Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta said some of its maize seeds were mistakenly contaminated between 2001 and 2004 with Bt-10, an insect-resistant strain that was not approved for distribution.
Industry sources said a small amount of Bt-10 maize seeds, probably as little as 100 kilograms, may have been shipped from the United States into France and Spain during the three-year period -- for research, not for commercial growing.
"We've alerted the member states," said Michael Mann, agriculture spokesman at the European Commission.
"We've also been assured there should be no health or environmental risks as basically, this product is genetically the same as Bt-11 which is already approved in the EU," he said.
But green groups were furious at the prospect of an unapproved GMO finding its way from the United States to Europe.
"This is an industry out of control," said Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth. "This case makes a complete mockery of the US regulatory system for GM crops," he said in a statement.
Britain's farm ministry said there was no indication that the contamination could have affected maize exports to the UK.
Imports of Bt-11 maize were approved by the EU for use in industrial processing in 1998. The product is mainly used in animal feed rather than in food production.
Most EU consumers are sceptical about GMO foods, worried about possible risks to health and the environment. But gene-altered products are widely accepted in the United States, the world's top GMO grower where consumer opposition is minimal compared with Europe.
Syngenta insists Bt-10 poses no health or safety risk, saying Bt-11 and Bt-10 strains have identical characteristics.
This week, the Commission said it would carry on authorising GMO foods and crops, if necessary without the agreement of EU states if they could not break years of deadlock over GMOs.
(additional reporting by David Cullen in London)
Story by Jeremy Smith
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE