Watchdog challenges Italy’s attempt to ban genetically modified maize

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has challenged Italy’s attempts to ban a genetically modified maize product from biotech group Monsanto.

The EFSA’s assessment of the Italian ban on the cultivation of the maize Mon810 and other GM crops followed a European Court of Justice ruling that such a ‘de facto’ ban was illegal.

While GMO cultivation approvals are agreed jointly at the EU level, individual governments can introduce safeguards if they believe that cultivation could present a health or environmental risk. Those moves, however, are always verified by the Commission.

Italy claimed that its concerns warranted taking "emergency measures" under Article 34 of the European Commission’s regulations. The court ruled that a member state’s concerns over any crop had to be backed by scientific evidence and independently assessed.

Following its risk assessments, the EFSA stated: "Based on the documentation submitted by Italy, there is no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health or the environment, that would support the notification of an emergency measure under Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 and that would invalidate its previous risk assessments of maize Mon810."

The Mon810 maize has found itself at the centre of an EU-wide debate over the cultivation of GMO crops. Italy had become the ninth EU state to issue blanket bans on the maize, following in the footsteps of Poland, Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece and Bulgaria.

However, further challenges are expected from the EFSA. In August, France’s supreme court lifted the country’s ban on the cultivation of Mon810. The French court cited an EFSA finding that stated the ban had not been justified by a serious environmental threat.