Federal agriculture minister Daniel Ducarme has agreed to allow an experimental project involving modified starch to continue, despite a ruling by the European Court of Justice that project was tantamount to a genetically modified organism (GMO). The project is being run by the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), which argued before the court that the modification of the crop did not amount to genetic modification. The court disagreed.
Inspectors from the federal agriculture ministry visited the field – whose existence was unknown until revealed by De Morgen newspaper – and reported back to Ducarme, who took the decision to allow the tests to go ahead.
The technique is known as mutagenesis, in which the genetic make-up of a plant is changed. The process can happen naturally, and is a driving force of evolution. However it can also have negative effects, such as cancer.
A number of tried and tested methods are widely accepted, but the VIB projects involves new methods, which is why the court considers the project on a par with GMOs.
A spokesperson for the ministry said the project already met the standards required for GMO operations, so it will be allowed to continue. It will, however, come under more scrutiny from the ministry, in keeping with the rules for GMOs.
When the project has run its course, the crop will be destroyed.