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European Union Moves To Approve U.S. Genetically Modified Corn

Despite efforts by two-thirds of its 28 member states to block the move, the European Union took a large step toward approving a new genetically modified corn Tuesday. It opponents say the corn, a DuPont Pioneer product called TC1507, has harmful qualities. They also predict the decision will prove to be controversial in Europe.

The corn's initial approval was aided by procedural rules requiring that decisions by the European Commission, the union's executive body, are weighed according to countries' population size. Agence France-Presse reports:

"A meeting of European Affairs ministers from the 28-member bloc could not establish a definitive position either way, Greek chairman Evangelos Venizelos said, citing EU procedural rules.

"Accordingly, TC1507 was allowed through and handed over to the European Commission for the next step in authorization."

The corn is intended to resist herbicides and to produce an insecticide that can kill pests — qualities that have made it a source of argument in Germany, which abstained from today's vote. Three other countries also abstained, making it difficult to form a consensus.

From Deutsche Welle:

"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."

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications website describes the sources and effects of two introduced genes in the corn:

"cry1Fa2.. synthetic form of cry1F gene derived from Bacillus thuringiensis var. aizawai... confers resistance to lepidopteran insects by selectively damaging their midgut lining."

"pat... Streptomyces viridochromogenes... eliminates herbicidal activity of glufosinate (phosphinothricin) herbicides by acetylation."

But not all worries about the corn have to do with biology. European politicians say that by forcing the corn's approval, the EU is exposing itself to potential recriminations at the ballot box.

"Fears are rife that the authorization would fuel support for anti-EU political parties ahead of key European elections in May," Europe Online reports, "since GM crops have traditionally met with strong resistance in the bloc."

"It would be really fatal for the credibility of the European institutions," Europe Online reports Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz saying.

After word of the approval came out, Greenpeace's European agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said the EU Commission shouldn't ignore the concerns of countries who are against the corn's use in Europe.

"The European Court of Justice would very likely overturn an authorization of this GM maize in a legal challenge, as it did with the latest Commission approval of the Amflora GM potato," Contiero said. "The Commission must learn from its mistakes and stop breaching the rules that help ensure the safety of what is grown in Europe."

Only one GM crop is grown in Europe with the EU's approval, as AFP reports: Monsanto's MON810 corn.

In December, DuPont Pioneer figured in reports by NPR's The Salt blog, as Dan Charles wrote about what the FBI called an attempt by a Chinese agricultural company to steal Pioneer's seeds from an Iowa cornfield.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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