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EU May Approve One New GE Crop to Appease U.S.

EU to end five-year ban on new GM products

European biotech firm beats American giants to sell genetically modifiedcorn

Nick Mathiason
Sunday November 16, 2003
The Observer

The EU will allow a genetically modified food product to go on sale next
month. The move will end a five-year European moratorium on new GM foods.

Key EU officials have indicated that the moratorium on GM food will end
within weeks. A committee meeting next month is ready to approve a corn
product developed by Anglo-Swiss firm Syngenta.

Its introduction will provide a massive shot in the arm to the downtrodden
biotech sector, which has haemorrhaged investor support of late. It will
also appease the US government, which has lodged a formal complaint with the
World Trade Organisation over Europe's refusal to permit new GM products.

But, significantly, the first product to get EU approval in five years is
not from a US firm but European. 'There is significant anti-American feeling
in Europe,' said an EU insider. However, the ruling is expected to herald a
wave of other product approvals.

Syngenta's GM corn is currently produced in the US and, despite concerns
that the product has not been adequately tested for safety, could be
available to consumers from next year, when all GM food will be identified
with a specific label. The GM corn could be used in oil and starches.

Consumers still appear resistant to accepting GM foods, although a
spokeswoman for Syngenta said that they are 'confused' about the issue and
suffering from information overload. The company is likely to back moves by
the industry to invest in a promotional drive. The company said it was
pleased that Europe appeared poised to back its product although it refused
to take anything for granted.

A separate filing to the EU by Syngenta to grow and harvest GM corn in
Europe should be heard next year. Spain already grows GM crops for
commercial use in Europe, according to Syngenta.

A senior EU trade source said: 'There will be a development next month that
will go some way to diffuse tension between the US and Europe on GM food.'

David Bowe, a Labour MEP, said: 'This could usher in a significant increase
of GM foods. The Americans are hanging back because of the wave of
anti-American sentiment.'

Over the last months there has been a succession of UK government reports
critical of GM technology, culminating in October's publication of the
results of official trials proving that GM oilseed rape and sugar beet
damage wildlife.

But Tony Blair and Science Minister Lord Sainsbury are avid supporters of
the technology in the face of wide spread opposition from the public. That
opposition was partly responsible for last month's withdrawal from the UK of
giant biotech firm Monsanto. The company, the leading multinational behind
the production of GM crops, is closing its wheat-growing operation in
Cambridge and selling several European crop-breeding centres.

Two weeks ago a two-year ban on GM crop trials in New Zealand was lifted
despite warnings that the technology posed a particular risk to the
country's ecological balance.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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