BRUSSELS European Union farm ministers fell short of a consensus agreement on Monday to allow imports of five genetically modified (GMO) products, paving the way for default approval by legal rubberstamp, EU officials said.
The products were four insect-resistant GMO maize types, including three hybrids developed by U.S. biotech company Monsanto Co from existing GMOs. The other maize, GA21, is marketed by Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta.
The other GMO product was a potato made by German chemicals group BASF known as Amflora and engineered to produce high amounts of starch for use in industrial processing but whose by-products can also be used in animal feed.
None of the five GMOs is intended for growing in the 27-country EU's fields but for use in food and animal feed.
"There was no qualified majority either for or against any of the proposals on GMOs," one official said. Under the EU's complex weighted voting system, countries have different influence in a decision and must reach a consensus majority.
The applications for EU approval now return to the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, most probably for a default approval with a few weeks or possibly longer.
EU law provides for rubberstamp GMO authorizations when ministers are unable to agree after a certain time. Since 2004, the Commission has authorized a string of GMOs -- nearly all maize types -- in this way, outraging green groups.
For the three maize hybrids, developed from Monsanto's existing MON863, MON810 and NK603 product lines for general use in food and animal feed, 11 countries voted against approval and five abstained, officials said.
The other GMO maize under discussion was GA21, originally a Monsanto product but now owned by Syngenta, one of the world's largest producers of GMO seeds. Ten countries voted against and six abstained.
EU approval of GA21 maize is of particular interest to Spanish grain traders, since the modified strain may only now be imported into EU markets in processed form. Syngenta's request for EU approval, if granted, would allow GA21 imports as grain.
The high-starch potato attracted a higher number of negative votes -- 14 countries. While BASF has filed a separate EU approval request for its high-starch potato to be cultivated, ministers dealt only with an application for by-products from the potato's starch extraction process to be used in feed.
(Reporting by Jeremy Smith; editing by Dale Hudson)