BRUSSELS The European Commission on Wednesday approved six genetically modified (GM) maize varieties for import to the bloc in a sign of its desire to speed up European Union decisions on the controversial technology.
The EU's executive granted the approvals unilaterally after EU farm ministers failed to reach a decision on the applications in June. The approvals, which are valid for 10 years, cover imports for food and animal feed, not for cultivation.
"The six adoptions of today are the result of a usual and standard procedure concerning the authorization of GMOs to be used in food and feed and have no link with the recently adopted package on cultivation," the Commission said in a statement.
Last month the Commission proposed an overhaul of the bloc's rules on GM cultivation, which if approved would allow member states to decide whether to grow or ban GM crops in their territories.
The proposals followed a political commitment from Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso last year to give member states greater power on cultivation decisions, a bid to break a deadlock between EU governments on GM approvals.
Many will see the Commission's approval, just one month after governments failed to reach accord, as evidence of the executive's determination to speed up GM decision-making.
TRADE CONCERNS EASED
The decisions open the way for fresh imports of the approved GM maize varieties from countries such as the United States, Brazil and Argentina.
In June the Commission told EU governments that failure to approve the varieties could lead to a repeat of last year's disruption to animal feed imports.
That was caused by the EU's zero-tolerance policy on unapproved GM material in imports. Shipments of animal feed from the US were refused entry to the bloc after minute traces of unapproved GM material were discovered in the cargo.
The Commission has said it will propose a small tolerance margin for unapproved GM in imports later this year to resolve the issue, but until then the only solution is for the EU to approve varieties individually for import.
One of the decisions renewed a previous EU approval for the insect-resistant Bt11 maize -- developed by Swiss-based biotech company Syngenta -- which expired in 2007.
The other five covered new approvals for soc-called "stacked" maize varieties, developed by combining existing insect- and herbicide-resistant GM maize varieties together with using conventional plant breeding techniques.
One of the five was also developed by Syngenta; two were developed jointly by subsidiaries of U.S. chemical companies DuPont and Dow Chemical; and a further two were developed by Monsanto.
(Reporting by Charlie Dunmore, editing by Jane Baird)