August 22, 2002 – Friends of the Earth Europe today urged the EU not to support America’s push to dump genetically modified (GM) foods in Africa as food aid. Instead it should do more to support countries which refuse to accept the controversial ingredients. Newspaper reports suggest that the EU may declare some GM maize “safe” at a meeting in Harare of southern African countries and the World Health Organisation on Monday despite no GM maize being approved for food use in Europe through a full safety assessment procedure in Europe (see table ).

The EU is under pressure from the United States to confirm that GM maize is safe to eat and to urge African countries to accept it as food aid. GM foods and crops are a controversial issue in Europe with major food companies avoiding them. Only one GM maize is grown commercially in Spain in a small area. Since 1998 the EU has refused to approve further marketing applications for GM maize.

Some GM maize products are used in some processed foods in the EU because of a legal loophole, since closed. There is widespread controversy over GM maize:

  • Bayer’s T25 maize – although approved for food use using a loophole there has been widespread concern about its safety. Company testing showed that twice as many chickens died who ate the GM maize to those that didn’t. The company’s research has been severely criticized and was described by one independent scientist as “not good enough to base a student project on, let alone a marketing consent for a GM product”.
  • Syngenta’s Bt176 – even though 13 out of 15 European states objected the maize was still approved food food use before safety regulations were introduced. The maize contains an ampicillan resistance gene (ampicillin is an important antibiotic). New EU regulations come into force in October phasing out the use of these genes in GM crops.
  • Processed products from four GM maizes were put on the market using a loop-hole in the law which allowed companies to notify European countries that they wanted to market their foods, while avoiding a full safety assessment. The loop-hole has since been closed.

Adrian Bebb, GM Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “The EU should stand firm and not do America’s dirty work. If countries wish to avoid GM foods and crops then their wishes should be respected. The EU should do more to ensure that non-GM food aid is available if these countries request it – especially if other countries are offering non-GM maize. No GM maize food has been approved through the full safety system in Europe and substantial concerns over the safety remain.”

Adrian Bebb in the UK – 00 44 771 2843211 (mobile)
Juan Lopez in Johannesburg – 00 27 72 401 53 90 (mobile)