Brussels | Reuters — European food safety officials found there was no need to widen buffer zones around genetically modified (GM) crops even though research shows pollen from GM maize can travel kilometres further than previously thought.
The buffer zones to protect vulnerable species, such as butterflies, have been part of heated debate in Europe about the safety of GM crops, which the producers say are entirely safe and environmentalists say are a serious threat to biodiversity.
Research has found caterpillars of some butterfly species can be harmed by GM pollen.
The opinion dated July 1, seen by Reuters, from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which guides EU policymakers, said its previous assessment had been far too conservative.
But it said its recommendation — a 20-metre buffer zone surrounding a Monsanto maize variety to protect butterflies, and a 30-metre buffer zone for a DuPont Pioneer maize product — “remains valid.”
The new risk assessment from EFSA was triggered by German research published in Environmental Sciences Europe last year that showed pollen from GM maize could travel up to three km, 100 times further than the 30 metres established by the EFSA in 2011.
“Once the study was published, it was clear that our previous assessment was overly conservative,” EFSA spokesman James Ramsay said.
EFSA “has confirmed the appropriateness of the existing 20-metre buffer zones for Monsanto maize,” a spokesperson from Monsanto said.
DuPont Pioneer said the report was further confirmation of the safety of GM products, adding it was the eighth “positive safety opinion” in 14 years.
Environmental campaigners said EFSA’s finding that butterflies were more likely to be harmed by pollen that had travelled a greater distance reinforced their arguments that buffer zones around GM crops need to be extended.
“The results of the biggest research into growing maize should have raised bigger alarm bells and more precaution,” Mute Schimpf, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said.
“Relying on the hope that rain or wind might weaken the impact of toxic GM pollen simply isn’t credible.”
The EFSA’s recommendation has been sent to the European Commission and to member states for implementation. No one from the Commission had immediate comment.
— Alexander Saeedy reports for Reuters from Brussels.