|BRUSSELS - EU governments look as divided as ever over genetically modified (GMO) food as a new request for importing a biotech maize type engineered by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research) comes up for approval.|
If approved by EU environment experts, the maize - modified to resist the corn rootworm insect - would be used in animal feed, but not for growing or for human consumption.
The experts, representing EU governments, will meet on Monday to discuss whether to allow imports of the maize.
If they agree, it would be the second genetically modified (GMO) product to receive EU-wide approval since a five-year blockade on new approvals was lifted, by legal default, in May.
But so far, the EU is as split over biotechnology as when in 1998 several countries said they would reject any new authorisations until the EU's biotech laws were tougher.
With some of the bloc's 10 new members sceptical about the merits of GMO foods, the chances of an approval seem remote.
"With some new member states voting against, the last vote was closer than it has been before," said one official at the European Commission.
"I don't expect it to be rejected but it (vote) should probably end up somewhere in the middle, as usual - neither for or against," she said.
EU member states last voiced their opinion on GMOs in July, when farm ministers failed to agree on allowing imports of another Monsanto maize known as NK603, with not enough majority either to approve or reject the application for imports.
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 GMO into the bloc, then the Commission - the bloc's executive arm - may rubberstamp an authorisation.
A qualified majority within the EU's weighted voting system is needed for the experts either to approve or reject such an approval. If there are insufficient votes for this, the dossier will pass to environment ministers.
UNFIT FOR RATS, GREENS SAY
Despite this year's end of the GMO ban, political deadlock among EU countries has been the pattern for all Commission attempts to win a new GMO approval since 1998.
Any new decision to allow imports would fly in the face of European opinion, since more than 70 percent of consumers are opposed to GMO foods on heath and environment fears.
"Their (Commission's) actions are... against the will of the European public who have made it consistently clear that they do not want to eat genetically foods," said Adrian Bebb at Friends of the Earth Europe.
The EU's food safety agency gave MON 863 the green light in April, considering it safe for human and animal consumption.
Greens disagree, saying there is not enough scientific evidence to say the maize is safe. It is "unfit for rats, unfit for humans", environment group Greenpeace said in a statement.
Story by Jeremy Smith
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE