EU ban on illegal US maize will have broad effects - possible new trade war in the offing

The European Union has introduced emergency measures restricting the import of animal feeds from the United States. EU member states voted almost unanimously for proposals that only permit shipments from the US that are certified free of an illegal genetically modified (GM) maize.

The agrochemical firm Syngenta admitted three weeks ago that it had sold unlicensed GM seeds - called Bt10 - to US farmers for four years, and that this illegal maize entered Europe. Syngenta has since refused to make public the information needed for governments to test food and feed imports for the illegal maize.

Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth said:

"Europe now has a de facto ban on the import of many US animal feeds. Today's emergency measures will be unpopular with US Government and the biotechnology industry but will start to protect Europe from more contaminated products. Syngenta must now come clean and give European countries the information needed to test for illegal
contamination in foods and animal feeds already imported into the EU."

"The public should never have been exposed to an untested and illegal genetically modified crop. This incident exposes an incompetent and complacent industry, an absence of regulation in the United States and a breakdown in Europe's monitoring of food imports. Immediate action is needed at an international level to prevent further contamination in the future."

Bt10 has not been approved for human consumption anywhere in the world. It has been estimated that around 1000 tonnes of the illegal GM maize entered the European food chain and was even planted at test sites in Spain and France.

Although the ban applies only to this one variety, US insistence that segregation of GM and traditional varieties is unnecessary means that the effects of the action will be much wider than would otherwise be the case. With no means to test reliably for the contamination, the measures are likely to result in a de facto ban on the import of US maize-based animal feeds for the foreseeable future.

Once again, the world's two major trading powers face the possibility of a protracted trade war and a further souring of relations.