Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace have today welcomed the news that EU Environment Commissioner Dimas is for the first time proposing to ban two types of genetically modified (GM) maize because of the risks they pose to the environment. The green groups urge the whole of the European Commission to put environmental safety first and support the proposed ban.
The two GM maize varieties (Syngenta’s Bt11 and Pioneer/Dow’s 1507) are engineered to produce a toxin (commonly called Bt) that is poisonous to certain insect pests. However, scientific studies show that these GM maize are toxic to certain butterfly species and may also affect other beneficial insects and have long term negative effects on soil health.
The proposal is apparently based on clear scientific evidence proving that the cultivation of these two GM crops has the potential to cause environmental harm. Commissioners Mandelson (Trade), Verheugen (Industry) and Fischer Boel (Agriculture) are among a small group of Commissioners that are expected to oppose the proposal and the application of the precautionary principle to this case.
Several scientists have recently published studies showing that the effects of GM Bt maize are far from predictable and that their potential risk is greater then previously thought. These studies demonstrate that the current EU risk assessment procedure is not able to evaluate the risks posed by GM Bt crops.
An announcement is expected shortly as to whether France will also ban a Bt maize on similar environmental grounds.
In addition, during the World Trade Organisation dispute over GM products, the EU had already argued that Bt crops should not be currently grown because of the incomplete knowledge about their long-term environmental impact. 
Friends of the Earth Europe’s GMO campaigner, Adrian Bebb said:
“This is a major blow to the GM industry. For the first time there is a European Commission proposal that GM crops should not be approved in Europe – and crucially this relates to two maize varieties for commercial growing. The Commission has raised serious concerns about the environmental impact of growing these crops.”
Greenpeace GMO Policy Director, Marco Contiero said:
“The Commission has no other option than to reject the authorisation of these GM crops if it intends to comply with EU provisions on risk assessment and the precautionary principle. If, on the other hand, it authorises the cultivation of these crops, caving in to pressure from Commissioners with a pro-GMO agenda, it would be bluntly violating EU law and new scientific findings.”
 For example:
* Recent research shows that GM crops producing Bt toxins could seriously affect aquatic ecosystems, since pollen and agricultural wastes from Bt maize enter streams where they may become toxic to aquatic life. This toxicity pathway for Bt toxins has not been considered previously
* The level of Bt toxin produced by one of these GM varieties varies strongly between different locations and between plants on the same field. The reasons for these differences are not known. This raises serious questions about the current capacity to assess the impact of Bt toxins on the environment.
* Unexpectedly, another recent study found that one type of GM Bt maize has significant higher amino acid levels compared to its non-GM counterpart, which made it much more susceptible to aphid infestation. Again this is another demonstration that Bt maize is subject to unexpected and unpredictable negative effects.
(All references to the studies are available from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace)
 European Communities – Measures affecting the approval and marketing of biotech products (DS291, DS292, DS293). Comments by the European Communities on the scientific and technical advice to the panel. 28 January 2005. See Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace summary: