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990521

(EU) EU/ENVIRONMENT: European Commission suspends all procedures concerning authorisation of varieties of genetically modified maize, pending results of studies on effects on butterflies Brussels, 20/05/1999 (Agence Europe) - In response to two articles (in Le Figaro and the Financial Times today), which noted the worrying conclusions of an American scientific study on the fatal effect of genetically modified Bt maize on a kind of butterfly, the European Commission announced on Thursday that, in application of the precautionary principle, it was going to suspend all procedures for authorising such genetically modified plants in the Union, under Directive 90/220/EEC (relating to the voluntary dissemination of genetically modified organisms into the environment). In particular, it will not refer a request for authorisation to the Council for the marketing of a new variety of genetically engineered maize, which is being examined.

The articles in question reveal that the larva of a butterfly (Monarch) deposited by American entomologists on leaves powdered with the pollen from genetically modified maize Bt (gene of the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria which gives maize the property of resistance to the pyralid, a harmful insect) caused an abnormally high death rate among them. According to the spokesman for Mrs Ritt Bjerregaard, Environment Commissioner, the Commission considers this new information relayed by the press as being of "major scientific importance" and will be referred to the relevant scientific committee of the Union ('the "plants" committee) and an ad hoc working group composed of Member State experts.

As far as the two varieties of Bt maize already authorised in the Union are concerned - the maize of the Monsanto group may be cultivated as it is notified by France for use likr any other conventional maize and the maize of the Novartis group, notified by the United Kingdom, which can only be imported for processing purposes and not for growing -, the spokesman tried to be reassuring: "we do not know the effects of these genetically modified plants in fields, as American research was carried out in laboratory conditions. According to information available to us, only a limited number of fields in Europe have been sown with one of these products. We do not think there is any immediate danger", he declared, adding that it is far too soon to come to any conclusions. "It all depends on the result of the assessment by the Union's scientific committee". At this stage, the Commission declares it does not know whether the American study was on a variety of genetically modified maize already authorised in the Union.

 
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