BRUSSELS Nineteen EU member states have requested opt-outs for all or part of their territory from cultivation of a Monsanto genetically-modified crop, which is authorized to be grown in the European Union, the European Commission said on Sunday.
Under a law signed in March, individual countries can seek exclusion from any approval request for genetically modified cultivation across the 28-nation EU.
The law was introduced to end years of stalemate as genetically modified crops divide opinion in Europe.
Although widely grown in the Americas and Asia, public opposition is strong in Europe and environmentalists have raised concerns about the impact on biodiversity.
Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio on Sunday confirmed in an emailed statement the Commission had received 19 opt-out requests following the expiry of a deadline on Saturday.
The requests are for opt-outs from the approval of Monsanto's GM maize MON 810, the only crop commercially cultivated in the European Union, or for pending applications, of which there are eight so far, the Commission said.
The requests have been or are being communicated to the companies, which have a month to react.
Under the new law, the European Commission is responsible for approvals, but requests to be excluded also have to be submitted to the company making the application.
In response to the first exclusion requests in August from Latvia and Greece, Monsanto said it was abiding by them, even though it regarded them as unscientific.
The new EU law has critics from both sides.
The industry has said it breaks rules on free movement, while environment campaigners say it is a weak compromise open to court challenges from biotech companies.
The Commission spokesman said the number of requests proved that the new law provides "a necessary legal framework to a complex issue".
The 19 requests are from Austria, Belgium for the Wallonia region, Britain for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany (except for research), Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; editing by Susan Thomas)