EU divided on GMOs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU farm ministers showed their deep disagreement on biotech foods yesterday, failing to agree on authorizing imports of a new genetically modified maize after the bloc’s biotech ban was lifted in May, officials said. Meeting to discuss whether to authorize a Roundup Ready maize type made by US biotech firm Monsanto, the bloc’s 25 farm ministers were unable to muster a sufficient majority either to approve or reject an application for imports. «There was no agreement for or against,» an EU official told reporters. The almost certain course now is for the European Commission to issue a final approval of the maize, by legal default, in October or early November. The maize, known as NK603 and altered to resist the herbicide glyphosate, allows farmers to manage weeds more effectively. It would be used to make products such as starch, oil, maize gluten feed and maize meal, and for use in feed. Only a handful of national delegations made statements at the meeting but it was enough to show current EU president the Netherlands that no decision could be reached as the remaining countries had not altered their previous positions. Of those that spoke, five were opposed to approving the maize: Austria, Denmark, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg. Belgium was the only country to say it was in favor of authorization, while Germany and Hungary abstained. Poland and Estonia said they had no position on the issue. Under the EU’s complex decision-making process, if EU member states fail to agree after three months at ministerial level on allowing a new genetically modified organism (GMO) into the bloc, then the Commission – the bloc’s executive arm – may rubberstamp an authorization. «The Commission will take the decision in October. It’s a rubberstamp,» a Commission official told reporters. But due to a likely delay in finalizing and translating the text for the Commission’s approval, the final decision for NK603 might be made by the incoming Commission when the current administration leaves office at the end of October, the official said. Greens reject EU process Green groups were unimpressed by the likely EU approval later this year, which would be the bloc’s second after it effectively restarted new GMO authorizations in mid-May. That happened when the Commission cleared the sale of a tinned biotech sweet maize known as Bt-11, made by Swiss firm Syngenta, using its own powers to permit imports. «This pattern of decision-making by default is starting to expose the lack of credibility of EU authorization procedures,» said Eric Gall, GMO policy adviser at international environment group Greenpeace’s Brussels office. «Most consumers do not want GMOs and member states have not agreed to approve them. The Commission is defying democracy by pushing through these approvals to satisfy the biotech lobby and its US backers,» he said in a statement. Although the farm ministers normally decide on new GMOs for use in food, environment ministers must also agree on the NK603 file since Monsanto wants to import maize for processing, not as a finished product. So there is a potential environmental risk. The Commission also approved NK603’s environmental risk yesterday for the maize to be used in animal feed. Although half of the EU’s required approval process is now complete, no imports may start until the final rubberstamp in October. «Today’s decision grants approval for the use of NK603 maize in animal feed. However, imports for this use can only commence once the equivalent approval has also been granted for food use,» it said in a statement.