The EU's committee on the dissemination of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the environment referred Monsanto's request to import its NK 603 variety of maize to EU ministers, who are expected to examine the issue in three months time.

  

If the demand fails to win the support of a qualified majority of member states, the EU's executive, the European Commission, which tends to favour such authorisations, will decide.

  

The EU has had a four-year ban on genetically engineered crops, introduced because of concerns over the potential dangers to health and the environment of GMOs.

 

Anger

  

The ban has angered the EU's trading partners, in particular the United States, which is challenging it before the World Trade Organisation.

 

Monsanto said in October 2003 it was pulling out of the European seed cereal business.

  

Although Monsanto had not asked for authorisation to plant the maize in the EU, a spokeswoman for the European Commission said there were fears it could be put to this use.

  

Since NK 603 is intended for use in animal feed, it would also need the approval of the EU's committee of foodstuffs experts before it could be imported.

  

The maize is resistant to the weedkiller Roundup, also developed by the US agri-food giant.