EU Seeks Clarification on Syngenta's Biotech Seed Mix-up

Up to 10 kg of Bt10 seed may have been exported inadvertently as Bt11 for research purposes to Spain and France.

The European Commission is requesting that U.S. authorities and Syngenta fully clarify the situation surrounding the biotech mix-up reported on March 22.

Syngenta reported an unintended biotech corn release of its Bt10 line, of which is said was used primarily for pre-commercial development, with its Bt11 line. Syngenta says the Bt protein produced by the Bt10 line is identical to that produced by the commercialized Bt11 varieties.

The European Commission says up to 10 kg of Bt10 seed may have been exported inadvertently as Bt11 for research purposes to Spain and France. The resulting materials have all been destroyed. In addition, the Commission is informed that an estimated 1000 metric tonnes of Bt10 food and feed products may have entered the EU through the Bt11 export channels since 2001, the date from which the inadvertent release of Bt10 started. At a meeting last week with representatives of Syngenta, officials of the European Commission were informed that Bt10 included the gene conferring resistance to the antibiotic ampicillin.

EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissoner Markos Kyprianou says the Commission "deplores the fact that a GMO which has not been authorized through the EU's comprehensive legislative framework for GMOs, nor by any other country, has been imported into the EU." Kyprioanou wants US authorities to guarantee, by taking the appropriate measures, that present and future exports of maize to the EU do not contain GMOs which are not authorized for the EU market, including Bt10.

The Commission has also asked Syngenta, the developer of the Bt10 crop, to release the full information about the molecular characterization of Bt10 and its distinction from Bt11, as well as the specific detection method and adequate reference materials to trace Bt10. The Commission has also asked Syngenta to confirm that all Bt10 plantings and seed stock in the United States have been destroyed or isolated for further destruction.

The U.S. government has given reassurance that no food, feed or environmental concerns are associated with the inadvertent release of this non authorized genetically modified crop, based on the fact that the Bt protein in Bt10 is similar to the one in Bt11, which is fully authorized in the U.S. and which the EU has authorized for use in food and feed.

However, the EU Commission says U.S. authorities did not inform the Commission that Bt10 contains, contrary to Bt11, the gene conferring resistance against the antibiotic ampicillin. Syngenta made this information known to the commission on March 31. According to the advice of the European Food Safety Authority, the ampicillin resistance gene should not be present in crops grown commercially. However, according to Syngenta, this gene is inactive in Bt10.

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