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US farmers would grow more GMO crops if Europe opens up

(Thursday, Sept. 11, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Reuters: BRUSSELS, Belgium - If the European Union opens its market to two new genetically modified (GMO) maize varieties, American farmers will grow the crops on a massive scale, a United States biotech analyst said Tuesday.

The European Commission says it could be asking member states to drop their five-year de facto ban on most GMO crops and food products by the beginning of 2004 as tough rules ensuring the safety of biotech products will then be in place.

EU officials have indicated that member states could vote first on allowing imports of two new types of GMO maize for use in food production, though a formal agenda has yet to be set.

They said the BT11 sweet corn produced by Swiss firm Syngenta AG and U.S.-based Monsanto Round-up Ready maize GA21 could be the test-case food products to get EU approval.

At the moment, only U.S. farmers supplying the domestic American market grow varieties of biotech maize banned from sale and import in the 15-nation European bloc.

Leonard Gianessi, senior research associate at the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, a Washington-based private research organization, said a positive EU decision would spur the biotechnology sector stateside.

"We would expect to see an increase of 50-60 percent in the number of acres of biotech maize under cultivation," he told reporters after a news conference in Brussels, adding that it would not happen overnight.

American farmers say they lose $300 million a year in lost exports of mostly maize because of the EU stance. The pro-biotech United States is challenging the ban in the World Trade Organization, arguing that the EU is acting illegally.

Green groups and GMO-sceptical member states say the EU is responding to the demands of consumers who do not want to buy GMO food products and also fear the large-scale cultivation of GMO crops could harm the environment.