EU biotech crop moratorium remains

BRUSSELS, Belgium, February 18, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Associated Press: The European Union deadlocked again Wednesday on lifting its 6-year-old moratorium on new biotech foods, failing to agree on a proposal to approve U.S.-based Monsanto Co.'s Roundup Ready corn for import and processing.

The EU's executive commission said the proposal failed to win enough support from a committee of experts from the 15 EU countries, although it came closer than on the first such application in December.

Nine countries voted in favor of lifting the moratorium on Wednesday with five against and Germany abstaining. Each country's vote is weighted based on size, however, so the application failed even though a majority of countries was in favor. There were 53 weighted votes in favor when 62 such votes were needed.

Belgium, Spain, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Sweden and Britain were in favor; Denmark, Greece, Austria, Italy and Luxembourg opposed and Germany was the lone holdout.

It now goes directly to government ministers. If they don't make a decision in three months, the file returns to the commission, which can adopt it on its own.

St. Louis-based Monsanto said in a statement it was disappointed the EU members "did not reach a decision" on the proposal to approve the importation of its corn.

It said the European Food Safety Authority concluded last December that the variety in question was "as safe as conventional maize" and that permitting its import "for food or feed or processing is unlikely to have an adverse effect on human or animal health."

Brett Begemann, executive vice president-international for Monsanto, said the company was hopeful the government ministers will approve it.

The vote on the first such application — canned sweet corn from a strain developed by the Swiss-based company Syngenta — had six countries in favor and six against with three abstentions. That application is already pending before government ministers.

In the December vote, Spain, Britain, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Ireland voted in favor; Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg, Austria, Portugal, France against and Germany, Italy and Belgium abstained.

The proposals are the first to start working their way through the system since EU governments enacted strict labeling and traceability rules for products with genetically modified ingredients last summer.

The Commission has sought to reassure Washington the new rules, which take effect in April, would bring an end to the de facto moratorium imposed in 1998 amid public fears about environmental and health effects of biotechnology.

The United States started legal action in August at the World Trade Organization (news - web sites) to get the ban lifted.

In trading on the New York Stock Exchange (news - web sites), Monsanto shares were down 13 cents to close at $31.61.