European farmers can grow two GM (genetically modified, genetically engineered, GE) crops. Soon, they may get the choice of growing another.
One of the GM crops approved for European cultivation is an insect-resistant maize (corn, Zea mays) called MON810. Its Bt modification makes it resistant to pest larvae including a beetle called the European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis). MON810 is grown commercially in parts of Southern Europe.
The other GM crop which European farmers could grow is a potato (Solanum tuberosum) called Amflora, making starch for paper and yarn. But Amflora wasn’t a commercial success so it’s not being grown now. [Edit: Amflora was withdrawn for legal reasons as well as commercial reasons. I blogged about it in my post about a GM potato for Europe, which you can find as a ‘pingback’ on this post.]
For several years, people have been discussing another insect-resistant GM maize called 1507 or Herculex. This GM crop was developed by subsidiaries of two biotech giants, DuPont Agriculture and Dow AgroScience. Its Bt modification makes it resistant to pest larvae including O. nubilatis and a moth called the pink stalk borer (Sesamia calamistis).
I don’t know how maize 1507 differs from MON810. Wouldn’t Bt toxin work against any kind of insect? Pests and other insects too. If you know, please tell me. [Edit: I found out and blogged about it in my post about Bt crops, which you can find as a ‘pingback’ on this post.]
The European Commission (EC) says that under a ruling by the General Court of the European Union, Member States must be free to restrict or prohibit GMO cultivation on their land. They must be able to make those choices ‘without recourse to safeguard clauses which up to now have not been backed by the [European Food Safety Authority]’. Maize 1507 is the test case for this ruling.
According to that EC press release, ‘Commissioner in charge of Health, Tonio Borg, said: “Duty bound to comply with the ruling of the Court, the Commission has decided today to send a draft decision of authorisation of the maize 1507 to the Council: in the coming months, ministers will be invited to take a position on this authorisation request”‘.
Here’s an article about how maize 1507 is controversial. It’s controversial because its Bt toxin might affect pollinators, including butterflies.
If maize 1507 does get approval for growing in some European countries, the DuPont subsidiary (Pioneer Hi-Bred) which might try to sell it to farmers will be obliged to monitor its impact on butterflies and other “non-target” insects. Sounds expensive, doesn’t it? Expensive in money and expensive in negative publicity. Pioneer hasn’t yet decided whether to try selling maize 1507 in Europe. [Edit: GM Freeze urges caution against maize 1507. As well as being an insecticidal Bt crop, maize 1507 has been engineered to resist a herbicide (weedkiller) called glufosinate.]
What happens about maize 1507 might be affected by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) now being negotiated.