Brussels, 26 May 2004
The Swiss company Syngenta has announced its decision not to market its genetically modified (GM) sweetcorn, BT11, despite the recent authorisation of the product by the European Commission.
Syngenta's decision not to place its product on sale to consumers for the time being is due to the reluctance of the European food industry to add GM corn to its product range. Consumer opposition is also very high, as evidenced by a petition handed in to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on 25 May.
In an interview with the French newspaper 'Les Echos', André Goig, the Director General of Syngenta, explained that the food industry has clearly announced that, at the present time, it will not commercialise GM corn.
Mr Goig added that 'the European Commission's green light has therefore no financial impact on Syngenta. The Commission decision recognises the safety and innocuousness of our product which for us is the most important.'
Mr Goig stated that Syngenta is now trying to secure EU approval for the cultivation of BT11 for animal feed as the company feels farmers are ready to accept the GMO. 'There is a demand from farmers for this product,' explained the Director General. 'Spain is already growing some. However, this product will only be commercialised if and when farmers are interested in using the corn.'
Mr Goig accepted the fact that 'the development of the European market for food biotechnologies will take time.'
In Ireland, Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture, Martin Ferris, claimed that the announcement raises questions over the Commission's decision to lift the moratorium: 'Opponents of GM from right across the political and non-political spectrum pointed out that GM is extremely unpopular and yet the embargo was lifted without any democratic consultation. Seemingly, Syngenta can recognise the level of popular hostility while our EU representatives cannot.'
Friends of the Earth, who organised the petition to the WTO, signed among others by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and French farmer and anti-GM activist José Bové.
'We do not think that the WTO is the right place to be making decisions about the food that people eat,' said a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, referring to a complaint by several countries about the EU's stance on GMOs.
25 May was the last day for WTO members to put forward evidence in a legal dispute brought by the US, Canada and Argentina over the EU de facto moratorium on approval of new biotech foods.
Friends of the Earth argue that the case damages the right of governments to decide for themselves what is safe for their citizens, and puts pressure on developing nations to accept biotech foods against their will.
Despite the EU ending its de facto moratorium last week, the US says it will continue with its WTO case until it is convinced that all applications for approval are being decided on scientific rather than political grounds.
A ruling on the WTO complaint is expected later this year.