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EU Mulls US Trade Ban in Illegal GMO Import Row

EU Mulls US Trade Ban in Illegal GMO Import Row
BRUSSELS - The EU executive Commission considered halting imports of genetically modified animal feed from the United States on Friday in a row with a major Swiss agrochemicals group over illegal shipments to Europe.

Syngenta disclosed in March that some of its maize seeds were mistakenly contaminated between 2001 and 2004 with Bt-10, an insect-resistant strain that was not approved by the European Union for distribution.

The Bt-10 got mixed up with another biotech maize, Bt-11, which is authorised for import into Europe. The US, a major biotech crop grower, exported the contaminated seed, food and animal feed to the EU.

The European Commission waNts Syngenta to help it identify Bt-10 so the 25-nation bloc can differentiate the two types of biotech maize and trace the tainted consignments but the Swiss firm has so far refused to give the information.

"The Commission is reflecting about possible action ... a temporary suspension of imports of corn gluten feed," said an EU official.

The EU imports 3.5 million tonnes of biotech corn gluten feed from the US per year. It is a mixture of different types of EU approved genetically modified maize so it is impossible to single out Bt-10 without the Syngenta detection method.

The Commission estimates that 1,000 tonnes of Bt-10 maize entered the EU as food and animal feed while 10 kg of seeds were planted in France and Spain in research field trials which were then destroyed.

Up until now, the Commission has sought to calm fears and leave Washington to carry out the investigation into how the Syngenta biotech maize was contaminated.

But repeated refusals by the Swiss firm to hand over information have raised tensions in Brussels. Under EU law, a biotech firm is responsible for contamination.

"We have again emphasised to Syngenta we must have it (detection method) as soon as possible ... before next Tuesday," EU Health and Consumer Protection Commission spokesman Philip Tod told a news conference.

Syngenta said it was in touch with Brussels.

"We are in constant contact with the European Commission," said Syngenta spokesman Markus Payer.

EU vets from the 25-nation bloc will meet on Tuesday to discuss the situation and receive a report from the EU's food safety authority on the risks associated with Bt-10.

The Commission will hold a video conference with the US later on Friday to get details on the quantities of biotech maize involved, Washington's assessment of the safety of Bt-10 and how much was planted in the U.S, added Tod.

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