February 14, 2014


EU may approve DuPont's biotech corn



Despite objections from a majority of states, the EU is poised to approve DuPont's corn-borer resistant corn variety, paving the way for the bloc's second approval for genetically modified (GM) crop in 15 years.


At a ministerial meeting, 19 of the bloc's 28 nations opposed approving the US-based company's crop, a corn known as 1507. But under the EU's biotech rules, that figure is not big enough a majority to prevent the EU's executive arm from approving the crop.


The EU has the world's toughest rules on growing or importing GM crops, fuelled by strong public opposition to the technology. The rules have prompted complaints from biotech companies that the bloc is ignoring scientific evidence by barring these crops. The cultivation of a biotech potato developed by German chemical maker BASF was approved by the European Commission in 2010, but the European Court of Justice overturned that decision. US-based Monsanto Co. last year said it was withdrawing its applications to grow biotech crops in the EU.


A corn developed by Monsanto, that is resistant to the corn borer, a worm, was the other GM crop approved to be grown in the EU, and was approved by the bloc in 1998. DuPont first sought approval in 2001 for 1507, which is also corn-borer resistant. After positive safety reviews and several decisions by the European Court of Justice criticising the European Commission for delaying its decision, the commission is now close to approving the crop.


Tonio Borg, the commissioner in charge of the issue said the commission is obligated to approve the crop but gave no timetable for when the commission might act.


The crop "meets all EU regulatory requirements and should be approved for cultivation without further delay," DuPont said. The decision faced opposition from environmental groups and powerful member states, including France, amid concerns that the crop could harm moths and butterflies.


With scepticism among Europeans toward EU institutions running high, some ministers worried about the repercussions of a decision from Brussels that would override so many national governments.


An overhaul of the process is in works. The commission has proposed giving national governments the authority to ban GM crops for reasons other than health and safety. That could unclog the EU's approval process for growing these crops, given that many already have approval from the commission and the European Food Safety Authority.


The biotech industry has been wary, nonetheless, since the proposal would allow countries to ban GM crops for non-scientific reasons.


Spain, one of the EU nations most supportive of biotech crops, was the first to seek approval for 1507. The UK, Finland, Estonia and Sweden also supported the crop's approval. Michael Roth, Germany's minister of state for Europe, said his country was forced to abstain since the governing coalition in Berlin was divided on the issue. Three other countries also abstained.

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