Science in Society Archive

GM-Free Europe Beginning?

A remarkable sequence of events since ISIS’ European Parliament Briefing Scientists and MEPs for a GM free Europe [1] may mean the beginning of the end of genetically modified crops in Europe Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

EU Environment Commissioner proposes bans on GM maize for good reasons

For the first time since GM crops hit Europe, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas proposed on 25 October 2007 to ban two genetically modified (GM) maize because of the risks they pose to the environment [2]. He could have mentioned the risks to animal and human health as well.
The two GM maize are Syngenta’s Bt11 [3] (Approval of Bt11 Maize Endangers Humans and Livestock, SiS 23) and Pioneer/Dow 1507 (see [4] GM Food & Feed Not Fit for "Man or Beast", ISIS Report).

Bt11 was found to be genetically unstable [5] (Transgenic Lines Proven Unstable, SiS 20), and expresses the biopesticide protein Cry1Ab from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, known to toxic to many non-target species including humans [6-8] (GM Ban Long Overdue, SiS 29; More Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops and Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton, SiS 30), and caddies flies, an important family in aquatic ecosystems, as recently documented [9,10] (Bt Crops Threaten Aquatic Ecosystems, SiS 36).

The maize 1507 contains another Bt toxin, Cry1F, which is totally untested, and is also engineered to be tolerant to glufosinate, a herbicide linked to birth defects and neurotoxicity (see Chapter 7 of The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World [11], ISIS Publication).

European Commissioners Mandelson (Trade), Verheugen (Industry) and Fischer Boel (Agriculture) among others, are expected to oppose Dimas’ proposal.

France suspends GM plantings

Also on 25 October French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced he was to suspend the planting of GM pest-resistant crops until he gets the results of a review to be launched later this year or early in 2008 [12].

“I don't want to be in contradiction with EU laws, but I have to make a choice. In line of the precautionary principle, I wish that the commercial
cultivation of genetically modified pesticide GMOs be suspended,” he said to Reuters’ reporter.

The only GM crop grown in the European Union is MON 810, developed by US. biotech giant Monsanto, and containing Cry1Ab (same as Bt 11). It was also found to be unstable [5] and one of its hybrids was suspected of causing illnesses to villagers in the Philippines [6]. But Monsanto maintains the protein contained in its maize has selective toxicity to corn borer and is harmless to humans, fish and wildlife. Some 22 000 hectares -1.5 percent of France’s cultivated maize - has been sown with GM maize this year.

During a visit to Paris the day before Sakozy’s announcement, European Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said a full ban on GM crops would clearly go against the rules and that France would lose in court if it implemented such a ban.

Sarkozy stressed that his move did not mean a halt to GMO research. Already during his election campaign last year, Sarkozy had expressed “doubts and reservations” about the commercial use of GM products which for him “had little interest”

Sarkozy’s move is generally welcomed in France. Some point out that France's policy shift on GMOs will also have implications for the rest of the EU [14].

Several other EU countries have already refused to let their farmers grow MON 810 maize or other GM crops, and many more countries and local regions around the world have done likewise within the past 18 months [15] (see No to GMOs, No to GM Science, SiS 35).

Austria triumphs again

Austria was the first European country to impose bans on GM crops, and has successfully resisted two previous attempts by the European Commission to declare its bans on two GM maize - MON 810 and T25 maize made by German company BayerCropscience – illegal.

On 29 October, the European Commission’s third attempt to stop Austria was defeated yet again at a meeting held in Luxemburg.

The Netherlands, Great Britain, Estonia and Sweden supported the Commission. According to these countries, the Austrian hesitation was based on “emotions and not on scientific facts”, as already stated by the commission last December; but Austria was supported by 14 other EU countries.

This move will trigger a conflict at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Argentina, the US and Canada have complained about Austria’s position. They say Austria is violating the international trade rules.

Article first published 09/11/07


  1. Burcher S and Ho MW. Scientists and MEPs for a GM Free Europe. Science in Society 35, 21-25, 2007.
  2. “Corrected – EU’s Dimas opposed to growing 2 GMO maizes-document” 25 October 2007, Reuters,
  3. Ho MW. Approval of Bt11 maize endangers humans and livestock. Science in Society 23, 26-27, 2004.
  4. Ho MW and Cummins J. GM food & feed not fit for “man or beast”. ISIS Report 7 May 2004,
  5. Ho MW. Transgenic lines proven unstable Science in Society 20, 35, 2003.
  6. Ho MW. GM ban long overdue, dozens ill & five dead in the Philippines. Science in Society 29, 26-27, 2006.
  7. Ho MW. More illnesses linked to Bt crops. Science in Society 30, 8-9, 2006.
  8. Ho MW. Mass deaths in sheep grazing on Bt cotton. Science in Society 30, 12-13, 2006.
  9. Ho MW. Bt corn threatens aquatic ecosystems. Science in Society 36 (in press).
  10. Rosi-Marxhall EJ, Tank JL, Royer TV, Whiles MR, Evans-White M, Chamgers C, Griffiths NA, Pokelsek J and Stephen ML. Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems. PNAS 2007, 104, 16204-8.
  11. Ho MW and Lim LC. The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World, Independent Science Panel Report, Institute of Science in Society and Third World Network, London and Penang, 2003; republished GM-Free, Exposing the Hazards of Biotechnology to Ensure the Integrity of Our Food Supply, Vitalhealth Publishing, Ridgefield, Ct., 2004 (both available from ISIS online bookstore
  12. “France suspends planting of GMO crops”, Sybille de La Hamaide
    REUTERS, Oct 26 2007
  13. “French skepticism of GMO crops signals policy shift”, Deutsche Welle, 27 October 2007,,2144,2848857,00.html
  14. Ho MW. No to GMOs, no to GM science. Science in Society 35, 26-29, 2007
  15. “Austria wins GM corn debate”, Animal Feed & Animal Nutrition News,
    30 Oct 2007,

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