Maize is the only GM crop that is grown commercially in the EU. For the most part, maize is used for feeding livestock and as raw material for the starch industry. Starch forms the basis of many foods and food additives.
GM maize in the EU: The first lines of GM maize were approved in the EU in 1997. Spain became Europe’s first country to put it to use. Today, 53,000 hectares, or 12% of Spanish maize production, is genetically modified. In addition, production is now taking place to a lesser extent in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Portugal.
The GM maize planted in Europe produces a substance that enables it to defend itself against a persistent pest known as the European corn borer. The larvae of the corn borer chew through maize stalks, which can cause the plant to tip over. In addition, insect damage provides an entryway for fungal diseases that can lead to the presence of dangerous mycotoxins.
These factors offer some interesting advantages to farmers who grow GM maize. When the corn borer is widespread, farmers not only reclaim yield that would have been lost, but also save the cost of using chemical or biological pest control methods.
Products from GM maize: Europe is largely self-sufficient when it comes to maize production. In 2004, the 15 Member States that formed the EU at that time grew approximately 11 million hectares of maize. An additional 2,5 million tonnes were imported predominantly from North and South America, where large-scale GM maize production is common.
When GM maize is grown in Europe, special rules need to be observed. Uncontrolled mixing of GM and conventional maize must be avoided. Food and feed that is made from GM maize must be labelled. If European GM maize production were to increase substantially, consumers could expect to find products containing GM maize on the market.
Animal feed and starch production: Only a small fraction of the maize in Europe is directly used for producing food.
- Most maize grown today is used as animal feed. To produce animal feed from maize, rather than harvesting only the ears, farmers harvest the entire plant. The maize is cut down, shredded, and is processed by fermentation into what is known as silage.
- Only a few foods are produced directly from maize. Some examples: breakfast cereal, popcorn, canned sweet corn, corn on the cob, or corn oil. * Maize, along with wheat and potatoes, is an important source for starch in Europe. About half of the starch derived from maize is used in food production. The remainder is used as a renewable raw material for the production of paper, packaging materials, textiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and much more.
- Maize starch is used as a raw material in the production of numerous food additives such as glucose syrup (corn syrup), corn sugar (glucose or dextrose), modified starch, and artificial sweeteners. The conversion of starch to sugar is called saccharification.