The European Commission has decided to allow European Union member countries to continue importing processed feed products containing specific biotech traits listed on its “existing products” register.

The action comes after the commission learned in late March that 1,000 metric tons of corn containing the Bt10 gene, which is not authorized for import by member countries, may have been shipped to the EU from the United States between 2001 and 2004.

The 26 genetically modified organisms — 12 varieties of corn, six of oilseed rape, five of cotton, one of soybean, one biomass and one yeast cream — have all undergone the EU's extensive regulatory review and been approved for use in the European Union, according to a statement issued by the commission.

“All the GMOs on this register can be legally sold in the EU and complied with the rules applicable at the time of entering the market,” the statement said. “The publication of this register represents a formal recognition of these products under the EU's new legislation on GMOs.”

The U.S. National Corn Growers Association welcomed the decision.

“We applaud the commission for ensuring U.S. growers have continued access to important EU markets for processed feeds,” said NCGA President Leon Corzine. “For producers who plant these biotech traits, this action provides assurance that there will continue to be an established market for their products.”

Limited period sales

According to the EU statement, the 26 biotech products authorized for marketability in processed feeds can be legally sold in the EU for a set period of three to nine years, after which an application to renew authorization must be submitted.

Syngenta, which owns the Bt10 gene through its Syngenta Seeds subsidiary, said it supports the EU in its targeted certification program for two animal feed maize or corn products for import from the United States. The program, which includes the “existing products” register, is intended to ensure that the two products, maize gluten and brewers grain for animal feed, are certified by an accredited laboratory to not contain Bt10.

“We respect the commission's announcement to ensure compliance with the existing regulations, which is fundamental to maintaining consumer confidence”, said Mike Mack, chief operating officer of Syngenta Seeds. “We are fully committed to continue cooperation with all concerned parties, including the EU Commission and member states, to achieve this, including bringing this measure to its conclusion when the program is reconsidered by the commission later this year.”

Bt10 maize is genetically modified maize that was inadvertently planted in very small amounts as Bt11 maize between 2001 and 2004. The proteins expressed by Bt10 and Bt11 are identical, with the Bt gene in a different location in the maize genome.

“This has no impact on the safety of the maize,” says Mack. “Bt10 also has an antibiotic resistance marker gene, which has been approved and widely used around the world for many years, including in the European Union. This marker is not active in the plant and therefore has no impact on the safety profile of the maize.”

Syngenta identified the Bt10 event using advanced DNA-based testing. The Bt10 event was found in five Bt maize breeding lines in the United States, three of which were used between 2001 and 2004 primarily for pre-commercial development. The seeds produced could have planted an estimated 37,000 acres over the four-year time period.

Works with laboratory

Mack said Syngenta has been working closely with world leading and independent testing laboratory, GeneScan, as well as with the animal feed trade. The certification for EU importation is expected to be operational within a few days at U.S. ports of departure.

Representatives of Monsanto, which owns 15 of the biotech products on the “existing products” register, also welcomed the decision, saying it lays to rest concerns that the EU might stop all imports of biotech trait-containing feed products after the disclosure of the Bt10 shipments.

“We are pleased to see the EU operate its regulatory process as it was designed, which allows the processed feed market to remain open for U.S. corn processors and growers,” said Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chief executive officer. “This action by the EU has the potential to open additional marketing options for U.S. farmers growing these biotech corn traits.”

The NCGA's Corzine noted that biotech hybrids constituted 45 percent of last year's record corn crop and some estimates suggest biotech seed may be planted on more than half of this year's corn acreage. “We're seeing more growers plant biotech crops each year,” he said. “That's why continued market access for these products is so important.”

NCGA recommends that growers contact their local grain handlers to find out how this development may affect their grain marketing plans. Corzine also reminded growers that NCGA's “Know Before You Grow” Web site is a useful tool in determining which hybrids have received approval in the EU and Japan.

Added options

Grant said the EU action could result in additional marketing options for farmers who grow biotech grain, as some corn refiners may be able to expand their grain buying to include the biotech traits listed in the register, if those refiners do not send corn-based food ingredients to EU markets.

In addition to the April 18 announcement on the continuation of processed feed imports, Monsanto's Roundup Ready Corn 2 and YieldGard Corn Borer products have already received EU food approvals, he said. Food approvals for other Monsanto corn products marketed in the United States are pending in the EU regulatory process.

“This comes at a time when farmers are seeking new choices and new technologies,” said Grant. “The EU delivered what it said it would for processed feed, contributing to the positive momentum that allows farmers to plant biotech traits with even more confidence.”

For more information on Syngenta products, see www.syngenta.com. For Monsanto's, www.monsanto.com.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com