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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
European Union lifts GM food ban
Tins of Bt-11 sweet corn will be labelled as GM products
A six-year moratorium on genetically modified food has been lifted by the European Commission.

Commissioners backed a bid by Swiss-based Syngenta to sell Bt-11 sweet corn for human consumption.

The decision fell to the Commission after EU governments failed to reach agreement on whether to lift the ban, which had been challenged by the US.

Anti-GM campaigners say the decision has little scientific backing and has no support among the people of Europe.

"The European Commission is supposed to represent the interests of European citizens and the environment, but has chosen in this case to defend US farmers and narrow agro- business interests," said Greenpeace's Eric Gall.


But David Byrne, the EU's commissioner in charge of food safety, says the GM sweet corn has been scientifically assessed as being as safe as any conventional maize.

The Commission is acting responsibly based on stringent and clear legislation
David Byrne
EU commissioner
"Food safety is therefore not an issue, it is a question of consumer choice," he said

"The Commission is acting responsibly based on stringent and clear legislation."

The EU executive had pressed for an end to the moratorium, saying strict new traceability and labelling rules provide protection for consumers.

Last month, France, Portugal, Austria, Luxembourg, Greece and Denmark continued to oppose a lifting of the ban.

Spain, Belgium and Germany abstained, while Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden and Finland voted to approve it.

Sceptical consumers

The decision will be valid in all 25 EU countries for 10 years.

The ruling allows companies to sell the GM sweet corn in tins, clearly labelled as a GM product, but growing the crop is still illegal.

Syngenta's Bt-11 is the first of about 30 such products awaiting approval.

The European Commission last approved a genetically modified organism for sale in 1998.

The US has consistently challenged through the World Trade Organisation the European Union's reluctance to import and sell genetically modified crops and food.

Correspondents say that although the manufacturers may win the right to sell their products, convincing sceptical European consumers will be another battle altogether.

The BBC's John Moylan
"Environmental groups claim that scientists do not agree on the safety of GM foods"

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