Agriculture, legislation: Italy’s
no to designer food upheld – for now
Europe’s top court
has ruled in a dispute between Italy and a US biotech giant
that Rome can keep in place its ban on certain GM products
but only if it can provide clear proof of a public health
risk. The decision has prompted both to claim victory in the
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has intervened
in a deadlocked dispute between the Italian government and
US biotechnology giant Monsanto over Rome’s three-year-old
decision to ban – on public health grounds – certain
varieties of GM maize available elsewhere in the EU.
The row centres around the Union’s “simplified
procedures”, which allow biotechnology firms to distribute,
without European Commission approval, GM foods that are “substantially
equivalent” to conventional varieties already on the
market and deemed to be safe by any one Member State.
The ECJ ruled that Italy can continue to uphold its ban but
only if Rome can provide “detailed” evidence of
the risks to public health involved. However, the Court also
confirmed that Monsato’s decision to market the GM maize
without Commission approval was in accordance with EU regulations.
“Foods which are produced from genetically modified
organisms but no longer contain them may be placed on the
market… if they are substantially equivalent to comparable
traditional foods: proof of which can be given by a national
food assessment body.” Monsato had introduced its maize
– which loses its genetically modified DNA during processing
– into the EU market on the strength of approvals by
French and UK agencies.
The battle continues
The ECJ has referred the matter to the Italian legal system,
which will have to review any evidence the government provides
in defence of the injunction it put in place in 2000. The
Italian government will be required to substantiate its fears
of the environmental or public health impacts of the maize.
Tests of processed maize carried out by Italian scientists
have found residues of GMO proteins. This has prompted Italian
officials to regard the ECJ ruling as vindication for their
ban. “I am very pleased that Italy has won,” Environment
Minister Altero Matteoli told journalists.
However, Monsato points to the ECJ verdict to suggest that
the evidence so far uncovered does not justify the Italian
ban. “The mere presence of residues of transgenic protein
in novel foods does not prevent their being placed on the
market,” the Court concluded.
Monsato is sceptical that Rome will be able to uncover enough
new facts to keep its decision in place. “It is extremely
unlikely,” a company spokesman told Reuters. “These
products have been reviewed by authorities not just in the
EU, but around the world, in the United States, Canada and
“Whatever Monsanto may say, this doesn't mean that these
products are allowed or that the ban is lifted,” a spokesman
for Friends of the Earth Europe was quoted as saying. “What
they are trying to do is get access to the market for their
products using a concept which has already been rejected by
Source: EU and external sources
Friends of the