Beekeepers with hives close to fields of Monsanto Co. genetically modified maize can’t sell their honey in the European Union without regulatory approval, an adviser to the EU’s highest court said.
The unintentional presence in honey “even of a minute quantity of pollen” from the maize is sufficient reason to restrict its sale, Advocate General Yves Bot of the European Court of Justice said in a non-binding opinion today.
“Food containing material from a genetically modified plant, whether that material is included intentionally or not, must always be regarded as food produced” from modified plants, said Bot. The Luxembourg-based EU tribunal follows such advice most of the time. Rulings normally follow within six months of an opinion.
EU rules require prior authorization before genetically modified goods can be put on the market. The bloc’s 27 nations are split over the safety of food produced from genetically modified crops. This is slowing EU permission to grow them and has prompted complaints by the U.S. and other trade partners.
Beekeepers “have a real problem,” said Achim Willand, the lawyer for the group of producers that brought the case.
“It’s incomprehensible that the cultivation of such crops on unprotected fields is allowed,” Willand, of German law firm Gassner, Groth, Siederer & Coll, said in telephone interview.
Since the beekeepers aren’t allowed to sell their honey, their only option is to “seek damages and ask that safeguards are put in place” against the pollen from GM crops, he said.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, received EU permission in 1998 to cultivate its MON 810 maize and the various products derived from the strain such as maize flour, starch and oil. The German State of Bavaria has a number of fields where the crop is grown for research.
Karl Heinz Bablok, one of a group of beekeepers that brought today’s case, detected traces of the crop in his honey and in the pollen he harvested from a field a few hundred meters behind his beehives.
The beekeepers have asked Bavaria to prohibit further planting close to their hives and for measures to prevent bees coming into contact with the crops.
A German court sought the EU tribunal’s guidance on the matter.
The case is C-442/09, Bablok and Others.