UK farm minister calls for EU to approve GM corn in vote

Britain’s farm minister called on the European Union to approve a strain of genetically modified maize in a vote later this month, saying such a move was supported by scientific evidence.

“If approval is granted… then it will be the first GM food crop authorised for planting by the EU for 15 years,” Owen Paterson told the Oxford Farming Conference on Tuesday.

“Europe risks becoming the Museum of World Farming as innovative companies make decisions to invest and develop new technologies in other markets,” he said.

The proposal covers an insect-resistant maize developed jointly by DuPont and Dow Chemical.

If approved, it would be the second GM crop that will be grown in the European Union after Monsanto won approval for another insect-resistant corn variety in 1998. By comparison, GM crops are grown widely in the Americas and parts of Asia.

“Whether or not this vote heralds a breakthrough in the EU’s regulation of GM crops remains to be seen. Delays and blockages have been politically motivated rather than based on evidence,” Paterson said.

The European Commission said it was “duty-bound” to propose a vote after Europe’s second-highest court in September censured the EU executive for lengthy delays in the approval process, first launched back in 2001.

The proposal will be put to a vote by senior EU diplomats from its 28 states sometime before the end of the month, and a weighted majority would be needed for approval.

France, Austria and Italy are among countries expected to oppose approval, while supporters are likely to include Britain, Sweden and Spain.

“Let me be clear, there are other tools in the toolbox. GM is not a panacea,” Paterson said. “But the longer that Europe continues to close its doors to GM, the greater the risk that the rest of the world will bypass us altogether.”

In one example, German chemicals group BASF decided two years ago to move the BASF Plant Science headquarters to the United States and stop the development of genetically modified seeds for commercialization in Europe.

Europe’s second-highest court last month overturned a decision by the European Commission to allow the cultivation and sale of a genetically modified potato developed by BASF. It is no longer grown in Europe after BASF withdrew it in 2012.

“The ruling underscores that it was the right decision in January 2012 to focus our plant biotechnology activities on markets with future relevance,” BASF said last month.

— Nigel Hunt is a Reuters correspondent based in London, England.

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