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Monsanto's biotech cleared by EU for animal feed use

(Thursday, July 22, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Bloomberg, 07/19/04: Monsanto Co. won European Commission approval for one of its gene-modified corn varieties to be used in animal feed as part of European Union efforts to ease biotech- food restrictions and a trans-Atlantic trade dispute.

The decision by the EU's executive arm is the bloc's first endorsement of a Monsanto biotech product in six years. The commission is trying to speed up EU approvals of genetically modified foods, including several developed by St. Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto, the biggest producer in a global biotech crop market with sales of as much as $4.75 billion last year.

"We welcome the decision,'' said Daniel Rahier, director for industrial affairs at Monsanto in Brussels. "It's an encouraging step.'' A split among the EU's 25 nations in June gave the commission the power to decide on the product, known as NK603.

The commission in May allowed the import from the U.S. and elsewhere of a gene-altered corn type made by Switzerland's Syngenta AG, the world's largest maker of crop chemicals. It was the region's first biotech food approval since 1998 and also followed a split among EU countries. More than 30 applications are still pending.

Monsanto shares were unchanged at $36.58 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 4:16 p.m. They have risen 67 percent in the past year.

`Pretty Big Win'

``It's a pretty big win,'' said Michael Judd, an analyst at Greenwich Consultants in New Jersey who has a ``hold'' rating on Monsanto shares. ``Time will tell how big the volumes are.''

The commission said it plans in a separate decision ``in the autumn'' to permit the sale of foods made from NK603. It got this authority earlier today from the EU's national farm ministers, who were divided over allowing the corn to be used in foods including biscuits and ingredients such as starch and oil.

EU approval to use NK603 in animal feed is conditioned on the EU approving it for human food, Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles said. Monsanto calls the corn ``Roundup Ready'' because it is genetically altered to resist the company's Roundup herbicide.

Greenpeace, which has lobbied against biotech foods, said the commission was ignoring consumer demands.

``Most consumers do not want genetically modified organisms and member states have not agreed to approve them,'' Eric Gall, a Greenpeace adviser in Brussels, said in a statement. ``The commission is defying democracy by pushing through these approvals to satisfy the biotech lobby and its U.S. backers.''

Won't Eat It

More than 60 percent of EU citizens probably wouldn't eat foods with genetic modifications even if the goods were cheaper or had less fat, according to an EU survey of about 1,000 people in each country of the then 15-nation bloc published last year.

``In terms of market potential, today's approval of the corn's use in animal feed is more important'' than the food request, Monsanto's Rahier said.

The U.S., Argentina and Canada, the world's three largest growers of gene-modified seeds, have complained to the World Trade Organization about the EU's restrictions. The curbs affect products ranging from grain to tomatoes whose genetic material has been altered to add beneficial traits such as resistance to weed-killing chemicals, limiting the number on the EU market to 34 until the Syngenta and Monsanto corn approvals.

Some EU nations say the products pose threats to the environment and human health, while the commission says scientific backing and stricter EU food labeling rules justify approvals. The European Food Safety Authority last year endorsed NK603.

Rigorous Assessment

``NK603 has been subject to a rigorous pre-market risk assessment,'' EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstroem said in a statement in Brussels. ``Its safety is not in question.''

Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and the U.S. have also approved the product, according to Rahier.

The EU approval of this corn type for animal feed is for 10 years. It won't necessarily reopen U.S. corn exports to the EU because the product is generally mixed with other gene-altered corn varieties that have yet to win European endorsement. U.S. corn exports to the EU have traditionally gone to Spain and Portugal.

U.S. corn exports to the EU fell to 59,182 metric tons, valued at 82 million euros ($102 million), in 2002 from 1.75 million tons, or 324 million euros, in 1997, according to the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service in Brussels. The U.S. share of EU corn imports dropped to 2.1 percent from 64 percent.

Expanded Planting

By opening new markets to U.S. farmers, Monsanto will increase planting of Roundup Ready corn to 20 million acres next year from 16.1 million in 2004, Kerry Preete, Monsanto vice president of U.S. crop production, said in a statement. That ultimately could reach 50 million acres, Preete said.

Another Monsanto application on NK603 covers cultivation. No EU decision is yet scheduled on this or any of the more than 10 total biotech requests involving plantings, which are more controversial than imports because of concerns about contamination of conventional and organic crops.

The commission won't seek fast-track approval of plantings as part of its efforts to accelerate biotech food approvals, the commission's Wallstroem said in June.

All nations in the EU have a say over biotech decisions because the bloc's barrier-free trade rules mean a product sold in one member country can be sold in the others. Commission proposals go to EU ministers if they don't win majority support on a committee of national regulators. Failure by national ministers to decide hands the power back to the commission.

US dismay as EU fails to agree GM - again

A decision by Europe's agriculture ministers not to allow imports of genetically modified maize raises the spectre of a continued EU freeze on biotech, warn US officials.

The EU's 25 national governments failed to back a Brussels proposal to open Europe's door to imports of Monsanto’s NK603 maize as a 'novel food'.

The US biotech company is seeking EU authorisation for NK603 as a food product; the maize has been modified to tolerate a Monsanto herbicide.

A Luxembourg meeting of environment ministers, under an EU labelling of GM products procedure, on June 28 also failed to give the green light to the maize.

The latest failure to authorise a GM product has not impressed Washington.

US officials have told EUpolitix.com that the decision raises a "serious" question mark over an EU commitment to end a five-year moratorium on biotech crops.

"This demonstrates that the EU still lacks a functioning, objective, and predictable approval process that considers applications for agricultural products of modern biotechnology without undue delay," Stan Cohen, senior agricultural attache, at the US Mission to the EU, told this website.

"This is particularly true when so many applications that have already received positive scientific evaluations continue to await approval."

"This situation raises serious questions about whether or when the EU's moratorium on biotech products will, in fact, come to an end."

With no clear 'yes' from governments, the buck has now been passed back to the European Commission – and Europe's executive is expected to give NK603 the go-ahead in September.

Brussels is getting frustrated with a failure of nerve by national governments to authorise biotech products that are unpopular with public opinion, leaving the commission holding a hot political potato.

Commissioners point to scientific evidence giving NK603 a clean bill of health and the possibility of international litigation if EU governments continue to block GM.

Highlighting the issue, and also on Monday, the EU executive cleared NK603 "for use in animal feed or for industrial purposes".

EU environment chief Margot Wallstrom stressed that authorisation followed rigorous procedures.

"The maize has been subject to a rigorous pre-market risk assessment. It has been scientifically assessed by the European Food Safety Authority as being as safe as any conventional maize," she said.

"Its safety is, therefore, not in question, and neither is the question of user or consumer choice. Clear labelling provides farmers and consumers with the information they need to decide whether to buy the product or not."

Green campaigners believe the situation indicates the failure of the EU's GM regulatory structures, revived in April after a five year freeze on the new technology.

"This pattern of decision-making by default is starting to expose the lack of credibility of EU authorisation procedures," said Greenpeace spokesman Eric Gall.

"Most consumers do not want GMOs and member states have not agreed to approve them, the commission is defying democracy by pushing through these approvals to satisfy the biotech lobby and its US backers."