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EU allows corn called TC1507

February 11, 2014

EU ministers have allowed the controversial cultivation of a new genetically modified crop, TC1507 corn from the US firm DuPont Pioneer. Opponents failed to muster enough support against the move.

GM corn
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Corn controversy

In a vote Tuesday, European affairs ministers allowed for the introduction of TC1507. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) do not oppose the technology. However, Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, has said he would do whatever he could to make the introduction of GM corn into Germany more difficult.

"We do not want to have the cultivation of [TC1507] in Germany," Friedrich told Bayern2 radio.

The corn had been under discussion since last year. At the time, a court ordered ministers to decide the corn's fate by this week.

Although the European Food Safety Authority declared the variety safe, critics warn that TC1507 could endanger butterflies and moths and ultimately human health. The insect-resistant corn variety is intended for use as animal fodder and for biogas production plants.

‘No unified opinion'

Britain, Spain, Finland, Estonia and Sweden led the corn's "yes" bloc. France and Hungary led opposition to the maize. Germany's federal government abstained from the vote because of a pro-contra split among the 16 regional states, or Länder.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks of the center-left Social Democrats, was a firm contra. "As environment minister, I am against approval of genetically modified corn," Hendricks told the daily Neue Ruhr Zeitung on Tuesday for publication in the newspaper's Wednesday edition. She called it "unfortunate that there was no unified opinion" in the German government.

Ironically, then, it was Germany's own abstention that helped ensure the European Union would allow the corn, propagated by the US firm DuPont Pioneer. Ahead of the vote, EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg had said that if the European EU's complex voting arithmetic were to produce a further deadlock among the ministers representing the bloc's 28 members, approval for TC1507 would be automatic.

The General Affairs Council ministers decided the issue on Tuesday under "qualified majority voting." This complex system weighs member states according to their size to ensure that a representative majority of the EU's 500 million population decides an issue, not the simple number of countries for or against.

In this instance, some 19 member states opposed, a clear majority, though they mustered just 210 votes out of a required 260 to block the measure - meaning that abstentions proved crucial. Belgium, Portugal and the Czech Republic, with 12 votes each, had also abstained, but even as a bloc the three countries could not have prevented the corn's passage.

Supercorn or Frankenfood?

Cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) stokes suspicion in the EU and all over the world on health and environmental grounds. However, GMO enjoys a special place in the business of agriculture - especially in the United States.

GMO crops have won repeated safety approvals, and in Tuesday's debate several ministers noted that they are imported into the EU in large amounts and, having been fed to animals, had by now entered the human food chain. And there is the simple fact that GMO seeds can be carried on the winds from farm to farm and country to country, making personal preference or national law powerless to stop the spread.

Earlier Tuesday, Harald Ebner, the genetic expert of Germany's environmentalist Green party, had urged Merkel's coalition government to exercise a "no" vote in Brussels instead of abstaining. Referring to surveys that show 88 percent of Germans opposed genetically modified foodstuffs, Ebner had said that if the country were to abstain, Merkel would "show that she does not act according to the opinion of the people of Germany."

For one example, Till Backhaus, the agriculture minister in Germany's northern state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, had warned against TC1507. "In my opinion there is a lack of basic accompanying studies to show what impact this plant will have on flora and fauna," Backhaus had said ahead of the vote.

mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa)