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Austria bans Monsanto GM maize

17 June 1999 - by Richard Murphy

VIENNA - The Austrian government banned cultivation of a genetically modified maize, known as Bt Maize MON-810, produced by Monsanto Co of the United States.

"This decision has become necessary because several recent scientific studies have produced evidence that Bt-maize can damage useful insects such as butterflies," Consumer Protection Minister Barbara Prammer said in a statement.

Prammer urged the European Commission to undertake immediate further studies.

The Commission announced last week that it would freeze the approval procedure for a genetically modified maize developed by U.S. company Pioneer Hi-Bred International following a U.S. study showing that a similar pest-resistant grain could kill butterflies.

The Commission warned that similar products developed by Monsanto and Switzerland's Novartis, already in use in Europe, could be affected if EU scientists concluded they threatened the environment.

The Monsanto maize was the only one in use in Austria, which banned imports of the Novartis maize in December 1996.

The EU and the United States, locked in conflict over Europe's ban on U.S. beef produced using hormones, are also at odds over genetically modified crops grown in the U.S. which are not approved for use in Europe.

Prammer cited several recent studies, including one by researchers at Cornell University showing that leaves dusted with pollen from genetically modified Bt-maize killed Monarch butterflies.

"These findings make necessary an Austrian ban on cultivation of the only Bt-maize which is already permitted, in order to protect the environment," Prammer said.

The cultivation ban would remain in force until it could be demonstrated that the genetically modified maize only combatted insect damaging to maize.

The environmentalist group Greenpeace welcomed the move and urged other EU countries to follow suit.

"Member states are now doing what the Commission should also be doing: recalling the Bt-maize which has already been approved and planted in some member states," Greenpeace genetic engineering expert Benedikt Haerlin said in a statement.

"Greenpeace urges all EU governments to take swift and appropriate action now."

(C) Reuters Limited 1999.

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