* EU Commission broke rules when it gave approval, court
* BASF stopped growing Amflora potato in Europe in 2012
* Decision casts more doubt on Europe's GMO approval rules
By Charlie Dunmore
BRUSSELS, Dec 13 Europe's second-highest court
has overturned a decision by the European Commission to allow
the cultivation and sale of a genetically modified potato
developed by German chemicals group BASF.
The General Court of the European Union said on Friday the
Commission had failed to follow the bloc's rules when approving
the Amflora potato, which is genetically modified to produce
extra starch for use in the paper industry.
While Amflora is no longer grown in Europe - BASF withdrew
the product in 2012, citing opposition to the technology - the
ruling may raise new concerns about the EU's complex and
much-criticised approval system for GMO crops.
It could also delay a decision on a separate Commission
proposal to approve cultivation of a new type of modified maize
developed jointly by DuPont and Dow Chemical.
"Because the Commission significantly failed to fulfil its
procedural obligations, the General Court has annulled the
connected decisions," the court said, referring to the
Commission's approvals for both cultivation and sale of Amflora.
A Commission spokesman said the EU executive was analysing
"The follow-up which the Commission could take would be to
appeal on a point of law, but I can't respond to you now because
lawyers are still looking at the judgment," Commission health
spokesman Frederic Vincent told a regular news briefing.
Environmental campaigners welcomed the ruling, and said the
Commission had no choice but to withdraw its cultivation
proposal for the new type of GMO maize, known as 1507, or face a
"Today's legal judgment demolishes the Commission plans to
rush through the approval of Pioneer-DuPont's GM maize 1507 for
cultivation," Greenpeace's EU agriculture policy director, Marco
Contiero, said in a statement.
Currently, only one GMO crop is grown commercially in Europe
- an insect-resistant maize developed by Monsanto. It is
sown on about 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of farmland,
mainly in Spain.
That level is dwarfed by an estimated 170 million hectares
of GMO crop cultivation globally, mainly in the Americas and
parts of Asia.
While repeated EU scientific assessments have concluded that
GMO crops are as safe for humans and the environment as their
conventional counterparts, consumer opposition to the technology
in Europe remains strong.
The surprise approval of Amflora was one of the first
decisions taken by the EU's then-health commissioner, John
Dalli, who took office in February 2010. Dalli was forced to
resign from the Commission last year after being linked to a
tobacco bribery scandal.
It was only the second time a genetically modified plant had
been approved for cultivation in Europe, and prompted an angry
response from environmental campaigners and consumer groups who
strongly oppose the technology.
It also led to a legal challenge against the decision by
Hungary, supported by other EU countries opposed to GMOs,
including France, Austria and Poland.
The Commission first proposed the cultivation and sale of
Amflora in 2007, following a positive scientific assessment by
the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Following the failure of EU government ministers and
officials to approve or reject the proposal, the Commission
exercised its power to grant approval unilaterally in 2010.
But in its judgment, the General Court said that following
the publication of an updated scientific opinion by EFSA in
2009, the Commission should have submitted new proposals for
approval by EU governments rather than simply adopting its 2007
"The Commission infringed the procedural rules of the
systems for authorising GMOs in the European Union," the court
BASF said the ruling vindicated its decision two years ago
to move the BASF Plant Science headquarters to the United States
and stop the development of genetically modified seeds for
commercialisation in Europe.
"The ruling underscores that it was the right decision in
January 2012 to focus our plant biotechnology activities on
markets with future relevance."
BASF added the potato was deemed safe by the EFSA and that
Friday's court ruling was about procedures and not about the
scientific appraisal of the product.