* EU agency confirms safety of growing Monsanto GM maize
* Agency opinion to pave way for EU licence renewal
* Green groups say EU agency scientists should be sacked
(Adds quotes, details)
By Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS, June 30 (Reuters) - Europe's leading food safety agency paved the way on Tuesday for the EU to renew its authorisation for a genetically modified maize made by Monsanto
, the only biotech crop as yet commercially grown in Europe.
Scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), based in the Italian city of Parma, said the insect-resistant MON 810 maize was "as safe as its conventional counterpart with respect to potential effects on human and animal health".
It also said Monsanto's maize was "unlikely to have any adverse effect on the environment in the context of its intended uses". Those intended uses include seed for cultivation.
EFSA's opinion is significant since it provides the basis for EU regulators to begin the process of renewing a 10-year authorisation for growing the GM maize, banned in six EU countries on environment and health concerns.
France, the EU's cereals powerhouse, banned cultivation of MON 810 maize in February 2008. But its ban is conditional on the EU renewing its approval, which expired in April 2008. If the renewal is granted, as is likely, France's ban will lapse.
The European Commission, which administers and monitors EU biotech policy for the bloc's member states, has said it will use the EFSA opinion as the basis for any authorisation renewal.
During the renewal process, MON 810 may still be grown.
SACK EU AGENCY SCIENTISTS, GREENS SAY
Monsanto, which reacted late on Monday via its website to the EFSA opinion even before it was officially published, called it an "exciting milestone for European farmers".
"These announcements from the European Union demonstrate a strong commitment to science-based decision-making to allow farmers to choose biotech crops for their farms," Jerry Hjelle, regulatory lead for Monsanto, said on Monsanto's website.
Green groups said EFSA was riding roughshod over the concerns of national EU scientists, especially after EU environment ministers called in December for a review of EU approval laws and better, longer-term safety assessments.
"Allowing EFSA to express opinions on GM crops while it cannot assess long-term environmental impacts is like allowing someone into a Formula 1 race just because they have a driving licence," said Marco Contier, GMO policy director at Greenpeace's European office in Brussels.
"The green light should not be given for this crop to continue to be grown in Europe," said Helen Holder, GMO campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe. "It's time to sack the EFSA scientists, disband its GMO panel and move GMO risk assessment to a truly independent and effective body," she said.