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EU to Debate Authorisation of GMO Maize on Monday

BELGIUM: June 20, 2007
Story by Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS - EU food safety experts will debate next week whether to allow imports of a genetically modified (GMO) maize, bringing forward a vote on the biotech product by two weeks, industry and EU sources said on Tuesday. The maize, known commercially as Herculex RW and also by the code number 59122, is jointly made by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont Co. and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds.

Herculex RW is designed to protect against larval stages of corn rootworm, which eats through plant roots and so reduces yield and nutrients. It also resists the active herbicide ingredient glusofinate ammonium.
If approved at Monday's meeting, the maize would be imported for use in food, animal feed and also in industrial processing.

Officials said they had expected the Herculex dossier to be voted on by national EU biotech experts at a meeting provisionally scheduled for July 6 or July 9.

For many years, EU countries have not been able to gain the majority needed to vote through a new GMO approval under the EU's weighted voting system. But that may be slowly changing.

Analysis of recent GMO voting patterns shows that the consistent blocking minority of EU governments may be eroding as some smaller countries are opting to abstain than reject an application outright -- so weakening the anti-GMO camp.

Some countries, like Britain, Finland and the Netherlands, almost always vote in favour of approving new GMOs. They are offset by a group of GMO-sceptic states like Austria, Greece and Luxembourg, which vote against and force a stalemate.

Even so, diplomats said the panel of EU national experts was still unlikely to reach the required consensus needed either to approve or reject the new GMOs.

If this happens at next week's meeting, the paperwork will be escalated to EU agriculture ministers for debate at a future meeting. Normally, this has to happen within three months.

Then, if the ministers cannot agree -- again a likely scenario -- the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, usually issues its own approval under a legal default process.

"Pioneer hopes that member states will recognise the safety of the product, the value of the independent scientific assessment ... which said it's as safe as conventional (maize)," said Mike Hall, Pioneer's communications manager for Europe.

"And for reasons to avoid trade disruption, we need to move forward and approve this product," he said.

European consumers are well known for their wariness towards biotech foods, many of which have not been approved for sale in the EU. In April, Dutch authorities detected corn gluten feed derived from Herculex RW that was delivered to several animal feed companies in the Netherlands, and partially consumed.

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