From: Reuters
Published April 17, 2008 07:28 AM

BASF ready for lawsuit against EU on GMO potato

By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - German chemical company BASF may take legal action against the European Commission if approval of its genetically modified (GMO) potato is not issued soon, a senior company official said on Thursday.

"We are prepared to take legal action against the Commission," said Stefan Marcinowski, a member of BASF's board of executive directors told reporters at a briefing.

Asked about a possible timeframe, he said: "Not years, we are doing the utmost to meet the next planting season."

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After an inconclusive meeting this week with EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, BASF sent him an open letter -- printed across German media, the Financial Times and other newspapers on Thursday -- demanding that the Commission approve its Amflora potato "without any further delay."

If approval is given, it would be the EU's first authorization of a GMO product for cultivation in a decade. Only one GMO crop may be grown commercially in the EU, a maize made by U.S. biotech company Monsanto and approved in 1998.

"We have not been satisfied with the process of approval so we took this unusual step (of the open letter)," Marcinowski said. "The decision has been sitting for nine months on the desk of Commissioner Dimas."

"This is enough time to come to a conclusion -- our patience and willingness to collaborate have now been stretched. We do not accept having to ... wait for months and months before cultivation," he said.

Previously, BASF wanted approval by April for farmers to plant its potato for the 2008 harvest: now no longer possible.

"We have missed another year of planting, because you can't just plant potatoes at any time," Marcinowski said, adding that the optimum months for planting potatoes in Europe were February and March. Also, BASF would have to plan generation of potato tubers quite soon to act as seeds for a possible 2009 harvest.

Amflora is engineered to yield high amounts of starch, eliminating the viscous gel-like substance amylose so it contains only one starch ingredient: amylopectin.

It is not intended for human consumption but rather for industrial use; for example, in the paper industry to make glossy magazine coatings, in textiles for yarn sizing and as an additive in adhesive or sprayable concrete.

EU governments have not managed to agree on biotech foods and crops for many years and repeatedly clash on the issue. No new GMO crop has received an approval for growing since 1998.

The European Commission has authorized a series of GMO products for import since 2004, but only through a legal procedure that enables it to issue a rubberstamp approval when EU states fail to agree.

GMO cultivation is far more controversial and the EU now stands on the brink of approving BASF's potato for growing, by that same legal procedure. The problem is, the EU's environment chief, in charge of the dossier, seems unwilling to approve it.

Normally, the Commission acts fairly quickly in such cases. But the company has been waiting since July 2007, when EU ministers failed to agree either to approve or reject its application.

(Reporting by Jeremy Smith, Editing by Peter Blackburn)

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