BRUSSELS The European Union has authorized imports of four genetically modified (GMO) crop products for sale across its 27 national markets for the next 10 years, the European Commission said on Wednesday.
Three of the GMO products are maize types, two of them hybrids, and the fourth is a sugar beet. None would be grown in Europe but would be imported for use in food and animal feed.
The decision is allowed under a legal default process that kicks in when EU ministers cannot agree among themselves after three months. In September, ministers failed to reach a consensus agreement under the EU weighted voting system.
"The authorizations are valid for 10 years, and any products produced from these GMOs will be subject to the EU's strict labeling and traceability rules," the Commission said.
The first maize, known commercially as Herculex RW and also by its codename 59122, is jointly made by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont Co, and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds.
Herculex 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 glufosinate-ammonium.
The same companies developed a maize hybrid called 1507/NK603 to resist field pests like the European corn borer, as well as glufosinate-ammonium and glyphosate herbicides.
"Today's approval is encouraging and we look forward to continued progress in the EU biotech approval process," Dean Oestreich, DuPont vice president and general manager and president of Pioneer Hi-Bred, said in a statement.
"We urge the Commission to ensure similar treatment for cultivation applications so that Europe's farmers can enjoy the same benefits as millions of other farmers around the world."
The third GMO maize is also a hybrid, developed by biotech company Monsanto and called MON810/NK603. The maize plants resist certain insects and also glyphosate -- the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.
The sugar beet, called H7-1, was developed jointly by Monsanto and German plant breeding company KWS SAAT AG to resist glyphosate-containing herbicides. It is designed for use in foods and feed, such as sugar, syrup, dried pulp and molasses.
Since the EU's six-year unofficial moratorium on approving new GMO products was lifted in 2004, the Commission has authorized a string of GMOs in this way, outraging green groups.
For many years, EU countries have been unable to secure the majority needed to vote through a new GMO approval. They last agreed to authorize a new GMO product in 1998.
European consumers are well known for their wariness towards GMO foods. But the biotech industry insists its products are safe and no different to conventional items.
Greens in Italy, where according to a recent survey six out of 10 people believe that GMO products are not healthy because they are not natural, called Brussels' decision "an offence to Italian and European consumers."
"The Europe that we want should protect biodiversity, health and farms' profitability. Europe with headquarters in Brussels too often protects foreign biotech companies," said Marcello Saponaro, head of Italian Greens in the Lombardy region.
In a statement, Saponaro urged that the wealthy northern region should be declared a GMO-free zone.
(Additional reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova in Milan)
(Reporting by Jeremy Smith, editing by Dale Hudson and Peter Blackburn)