EU experts handed over to ministers a decision on allowing the import of a type of a form of genetically modified (GM) sweet corn, Bt-11. The ministers have three months in which to make a decision, according to EU rules.

  

EU health commissioner David Byrne's spokesman said in Brussels the required majority was not secured on the standing committee for the food chain, which gathers scientific representatives from the 15-member states.

 

Difficult

  

"We've always realised that this is a difficult decision," said spokesman Beate Gminder. "It's a difficult situation for the member states, it's something that's difficult to explain to citizens and consumers," she added.

  

Environmental group Friends of the Earth welcomed the decision. "There is clearly no scientific consensus over the safety of this modified sweet corn. The decision not to approve it is a victory for public safety and common sense," said Geert Ritsema of

Friends of the Earth in Europe.

 

"The decision not to approve it is a victory for public safety and common sense"

Geert Ritsema,
Friends of the Earth, Europe

Six countries of the 15-member bloc - Britain, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden - voted in favour. Three countries abstained - Belgium, Germany and Italy - while six voted against: Austria, Denmark, Greece, France, Luxembourg and Portugal, she said.

  

The EU had already delayed the vote in November, after a number of EU countries sought "clarification" before taking the decision.

  

The decision is likely to be put to ministers in January, the European Commission, the EU's executive body, said. Chief spokesman Reijo Kempinnen noted that if ministers fail to agree on action within three months, the file returns to the Commission for a decision.

  

If the EU experts had agreed to allow Bt-11, it would have effectively lifted a de-facto moratorium in place since 1999 against the import and cultivation of GM products in the EU.

  

The EU decision - against a backdrop of public disquiet in Europe on the issue of "Frankenfoods" - is being closely watched by its trade partners, notably by the US, which has the world's biggest biotech industry.