The European Commission will have to make another decision on a biotech crop variety after European Union farm ministers rejected an application for Syngenta's genetically modified sweet corn. But this decision may be the first to begin to end the ban on biotech foods.
Ministers from the U.K., Finland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden supported Syngenta's application. However, Austria, Denmark, France, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal were against approval. Belgium, Germany and Spain were neutral.
The United States has accused the European Union of illegally banning biotech foods without scientific basis. Environmentalist groups say that the outcome of the ministers' votes show that governments do not trust in the safety of GMOs, according to wire reports.
Syngenta's Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) 11 sweet corn has been seeking EU governmental approval since 1999. The Bt11 proposal is the first of 34 applications working through the approval process that may end the de facto moratorium on biotech imports.
The European Commission now has the legal power to rubberstamp a request for imports of Bt-11, although there is no formal time limit for the EU executive to act. Bt-11 maize would be for consumption from the can, not for growing in Europe's fields.
"We're now in business. The laws are in place and we can do this (authorise Bt-11) in such a way that consumers are protected," EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne was quoted in a Reuters article. "It is therefore logical that we move ahead with pending authorizations," he told a news conference, adding that approval was likely in the next two months, the article adds.
Because many European consumers are against genetically modified crops, few are sold. Recently the Union also enacted stricter labeling laws for all materials that contained even the slightest amount of biotech material.