EU Considers Suspending U.S. Corn Gluten Imports in Biotech Dispute
BRUSSELS, Belgium The European Union is considering suspending imports of corn gluten animal feed from the United States worth 347 million euros ($450 million) a year after shipments of an unauthorized genetically modified corn were sent to the EU, a spokesman said Monday.
The dispute concerns U.S. handling of a case involving a type of biotech animal feed called Bt10 that Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta AG inadvertently sold in the United States and exported to Europe without approval.
EU spokesman Philip Tod said the EU would consider a temporary ban after a meeting of European food safety experts Tuesday and talks Monday between EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou and Mike Mack, Chief Operating Officer of Syngenta Seeds.
He said the decision to suspend imports could depend on Syngenta providing European authorities with a method for detecting Bt10. Tod said Mack agreed to provide that technology, but did not do so at Monday's meeting.
U.S. exports of corn gluten feed to the EU totaled 347 million euros ($450 million) last year, up slightly from 2003.
A ban would need approval from EU governments and officials, who said the bloc was unlikely to act hastily in taking such a move, which could further strain trans-Atlantic trade relations.
Syngenta said last week it has reached a settlement with the U.S. government over the inadvertent sale to farmers of Bt10, which has not been approved by American or European regulators.
The company said in a statement that under the settlement reached with the U.S. Agriculture Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it would pay a fine of $375,000 and teach its employees the importance of complying with all rules.
However, the EU has been annoyed that U.S. authorities allowed the export of Bt10 to Europe after it was mixed up with an authorized biotech Syngenta maize labeled Bt11.
"We are extremely disappointed that a non-authorized GMO has entered the European Union," Tod said. "We demanded assurances that this would not occur again."
He said a ban could remain in place until the EU was given a means of detecting Bt10 or received assurances from Washington that feed consignments were no longer contaminated.
The EU says about 22 pounds of Bt10 seeds were imported into Spain and France for research purposes, but were later destroyed. About 1,000 tons of animal feed and food products such as oil and flour containing the corn are thought to have entered the EU since 2001.
The case has underscored European concerns about biotech foods, coming shortly after the EU relaxed restrictions on genetically modified organisms.
Tod said the EU's head office had no powers to fine Syngenta, but said national governments in Europe could do so.
Shares of Syngenta rose 36 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $21.73 in afternoon trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has been trading at a 52-week range of $14.67 to $23.26.
Source: Associated Press