The first GMO opinion from the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) will open the way for the Commission to draft proposals on authorising NK 603 maize for consultation by member states in a regulatory committee, the decision could be as early as January or February next year.
These opinions relate to the risk assessment of a NK603 "Roundup Ready" maize and of food and feed products derived from it. This maize type has been genetically modified to provide tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate (commonly formulated as "Roundup"). The stated purpose of this modification is to allow farmers to manage weeds more effectively in maize fields during cultivation.
The risk assessment is based on two questions raised by the Commission related to applications for the placing of the maize on the market by Monsanto under Regulation (EC) No 258/97 on novel food and under Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.
"Having considered all of the evidence provided, the Panel concluded that NK 603 maize is as safe as conventional maize and therefore the placing on the market of NK 603 maize - for import for processing and food or feed use-is unlikely to have an adverse effect on human or animal health, or in this context, on the environment," Dr. Harry Kuiper, chair of the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms told a press conference.
He emphasized the approach of the scientists to adopt a competitive assessment of the GM maize, in other words, to look at any differences which might arise between the nearest conventional line and the GM version.
Anticipating anti-GM campaigners who will be disappointed by the EFSA opinion (a 'yes' could ultimately clear the way for the product on the market) Geoffrey Podger, executive director of EFSA, told the press conference: "We are very much aware of the sensitivities of the consumer, and without fear or favour we have carried out the assessment."
Stressing the role of EFSA as concerned with risk assessment rather than risk management, Podger added: "We are not the risk managers and we do not have a timetable. Responsibility now falls on the Commission to take it further in the European Union."