Recent European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinions published earlier this year (2019) deal with two approval applications for maize developed through cross-breeding to combine several genetically engineered traits.
The plants are resistant to up to four groups of herbicides - glyphosate, glufosinate, 2,4-D and AOPP - and produce up to six insecticides.
The genetically engineered maize is a crucial element of a business strategy that couples the marketing of patented seeds with herbicides.
This concept has serious consequences for the protection of health and the environment: the plants inherit resistance to several herbicides and can therefore be sprayed with high dosages and mixtures of specific herbicides.
Consequently, the residues from spraying will be present in the harvest, as will the insecticidal toxins produced in the maize.
In previous decision making the EU Commission has already approved several maize variants with similar characteristics. None of these were ever tested for combinatorial effects on health from mixtures of the toxic constituents in the respective food and feed products.
The EU Commission, EFSA and industry are of the opinion that detailed investigations of the combinatorial effects are not necessary.
However, this assumption is highly questionable. Just recently, documents were published showing that EFSA had not correctly assessed immune system responses to Bt toxins. Currently, it cannot be ruled out that Bt toxins trigger allergies and other immune responses.
Very high concentrations of Bt toxins can be found in some products derived from the maize. In addition, the health risks from the residues of spraying are still being discussed by scientists, and crucial data needed to conclude on safety are missing.
Christoph Then for Testbiotech said: “Instead of giving priority to the protection of health and the environment, EFSA is paving the way for international trade and corporate interests.
"And despite the majority of EU Member States and the EU Parliament repeatedly voting against imports of these crop plants, it is highly likely that the EU Commission will again give its approval.”
Currently, Testbiotech is aiming to make more detailed investigations mandatory for genetically engineered plants in a case brought before the EU court (case C-82/17 P).
Unfortunately, as stated by the Attorney General in 2018, the EU Court does not seem to be in a position to request a further, more detailed risk assessment. The final decision of the court is expected in 2019.
This article is based on a press release from Test Biotech, the Institute for Independent Impact Assessment of Biotechnology.