EU court backs German beekeepers in GM pollen case

Tue Sep 6, 2011 11:57am EDT

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* Court says honey containing GM pollen must get EU approval

* Campaigners say Monsanto should pay financial compensation

By Charlie Dunmore

BRUSSELS, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Honey containing even small traces of pollen from genetically modified (GM) plants must receive prior EU authorisation before it can be sold as food, Europe's highest court said on Tuesday.

The ruling could open the way for compensation claims by beekeepers against biotech companies such as Monsanto , and EU authorities said it could hit European imports of honey from countries where GM crops are widely grown.

The case was brought by German beekeepers from Bavaria, who in 2005 found their honey contained traces of pollen from insect-resistant GM maize (corn) plants developed by Monsanto, which were being grown for research purposes near their hives.

The beekeepers said the presence of pollen from GM plants in their honey made the product unsuitable for sale and consumption, and brought legal action against the Bavarian authorities which authorised the field trials of GM maize.

"Products such as honey containing such pollen constitute foodstuffs which contain ingredients produced from GMOs," the European Court of Justice said in a statement.

"The pollen in question consequently comes within the scope of the (EU) regulation and must be subject to the authorisation scheme provided for thereunder before being placed on the market," the statement said.

Environmental campaigners said the ruling proved that GM and non-GM agriculture could not coexist in Europe, and that the European Commission should reverse its recent decision to allow traces of unapproved GM material in feed imports to the bloc.

"Monsanto and the Bavarian state that grew the crop should be held fully liable for this genetic pollution and compensate any beekeeper affected," Greenpeace EU agriculture policy adviser Stefanie Hundsdorfer said in a statement.

A spokesman for Monsanto refused to comment on the specifics of the case, but said there were no safety concerns with its MON810 maize.

"This case is about the legal technicalities of the EU approvals of MON810. The safety of MON810 is confirmed by multiple regulatory approvals, including those in the EU, and by up to 15 years of successful commercial use and consumption," the spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Commission said the EU executive was still studying the ruling, but that it could have an impact on imports of honey from countries such as Argentina, where GM crops are widely grown.

Imports accounted for 40 percent of EU honey consumption in 2007, and were worth a total of 375 million euros ($528.4 million), the Confederation of British Industry said in a 2009 report. (Editing by Charlie Dunmore, editing by Anthony Barker) ($1=.7097 Euro)

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