EU may delay decision in May on growing GM crops
By Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission may again put off a decision on whether farmers can grow more genetically modified crops when it holds a long-awaited biotech policy debate in May, officials said on Monday.
After months of expectation, the Commission has finally set May 7 for debating its biotech policy, centered around what has been called the "Dimas package": EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, one of the most GMO-wary commissioners.
Cultivation of GM crops is expected to be at the top of the agenda, with three applications long overdue for consideration, one lawsuit filed against the Commission and another threatened.
The EU has not approved any GM crops for growing since 1998.
Another big problem is Austria, the only remaining country cited in a World Trade Organisation case filed against the Commission by Argentina, Canada and the United States to maintain bans, from 1997 and 1999, against two GM crop products.
Officials said one possible deal being discussed in Brussels was for Dimas to agree to an order for Austria to lift its ban on import and processing of those products, but keep its ban on cultivation. In return, his wish to reject two company applications for growing GM crops would not be blocked.
"The idea would be for Dimas to give this and allow the College (the EU's 27 commissioners) to decide on the two maizes," one EU official said.
"(It) would have to go against the proposal of a commissioner (to block the GM maize applications). Several member states have also come out explicitly against (GM crop) cultivation," the official said.
Those maizes are Syngenta's Bt-11; and 1507 maize, developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a unit of DuPont Co, and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds.
Last year, Pioneer filed a lawsuit against the Commission for what it called undue delays in processing its request for EU approval of 1507 maize. And last week, German chemicals company BASF threatened to do the same over its biotech potato, which it wants EU farmers to grow to make extra starch.
For months, the Commission has been due to debate the issue in a bid to end a policy vacuum and also show its major trading partners like the United States, the world's top biotech crop grower, that Europe is, to a point, in the market for GMOs.
Europe has long been split on biotech policy and the EU's 27 countries consistently clash over whether to approve new, finished GM varieties for import. The Commission usually ends up issuing a rubberstamp approval, which it may do under EU law.
(Editing by Peter Blackburn)