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EU to Debate Allowing in Monsanto GMO Maize

EU to Debate Allowing in Monsanto GMO Maize
BRUSSELS - EU specialists vote next week on whether to allow imports of a gene-spliced maize variety, but face a re-run of a deadlocked September meeting that exposed the bloc's divisions over biotech policy.

If approved by the environment experts, the maize made by US agrochemicals giant Monsanto would become the third GMO to be allowed for use across the EU since the bloc ended its de facto moratorium on new authorisations earlier this year.

The meeting is the European Commission's second stab at persuading member governments to approve the maize, known as MON 863 and modified to resist the corn rootworm insect.

Monsanto has requested approval of its maize for processing into animal feed and not for growing or consumption by humans.

Member states are seen likely to fail to agree -- as happened two months ago in a debate postponed to next Monday -- and the matter would then pass to EU environment ministers.

"I think it will be like the other (votes), there will be no opinion. It'd be a surprise if suddenly there was a qualified majority for or even against," a Commission official said.

If ministers cannot agree after three months, the Commission may rubber stamp an approval. This has happened twice this year.

Agreement on new GMOs looks as remote as in the moratorium years, which began in 1998 when several countries said they would block new authorisations until biotech laws were tougher.

Since November 2003, the EU executive has asked EU states eight times to approve a GMO food or feed product. In seven cases, their attempts failed, while for MON 863 maize -- the most recent -- the vote was postponed after a lengthy debate.

In September only a handful of countries favoured approving imports of MON 863 maize, with a large number indicating they would abstain, when called upon. There was no formal vote.

The experts will also discuss on Monday whether to order five countries to end national bans on GMO crops and foods.

Between 1997 and 2000, Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg used a legal provision to prohibit specific GMOs on national territory, focusing on three maize and two rapeseed types already approved before the EU's moratorium began.

Story by Jeremy Smith

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