BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - As European Union health authorities continued to panic over unauthorized Bt10 maize having been imported from the U.S., the 25 member states agreed on April 15 to emergency measures requiring all imports from the U.S. of corn gluten feed and brewers grain to be certified as free of Bt10.

EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said it was "a targeted measure, which is necessary to uphold EU law, maintain consumer confidence and ensure that the unauthorized GMO Bt10 cannot enter the EU." But U.S. authorities immediately accused the EU of overreacting.

Imports of maize products that are certified as free of Bt10 by an accredited laboratory and by a validated method can continue, but "we cannot and will not allow a GMO which has not gone through our rigorous authorization procedures to enter the EU market," Kyprianou said.

According to information from the U.S. authorities and the European food industry, food products in the EU are not affected; therefore, they are not included in the emergency measure at this stage. However, member states now will have to monitor whether GM food products are present on their market, whether they have been contaminated by Bt10, and to inform the EU authorities. The EU said it will consider additional measures on food if the evidence requires it. Nonetheless, it is still claiming that its measure "is designed to affect trade as little as possible."

The inadvertent export of the unauthorized GMO Bt10 - from Syngenta - first was revealed to the EU Commission by the U.S. on March 22. Commissioner Kyprianou is expected to discuss the matter with FDA's acting Commissioner Lester Crawford, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley during his visit to the U.S. this week.

A New Complication To EU GMO Rules

The European Union published a list on April 18 of 26 genetically modified products that may be marketed in Europe although they have not been authorized through the current EU procedures. They have been added to the EU's register of genetically modified food and feed products - which Kyprianou described the same day as "an important tool to clarify the legal status of GMOs."

The products - mainly varieties of maize, oilseed rape and cotton, but also including one soybean, one biomass and one yeast cream - are allowed to remain on the EU market for up to nine years before they are required to obtain authorizations in line with current practice. They have all been on the EU market since before the new legislative framework for authorizing GM food and feed came into effect last year; some were approved under former EU legislation, and some did not require approval at the time that they were put on the market. Until last year, feed materials or food additives produced from GMOs did not need specific authorization to be sold in the EU.

Biotech Big In New EU Research Program

The just-published blueprint for the EU's new research program for 2007-2013 gives priority treatment to biotechnology. Overall, the plans place greater emphasis than in the past on research that is relevant to the needs of European industry, so as to help it compete internationally. Technology platforms and joint technology initiatives will focus on fields of major European public interest identified through dialogue with industry.

A major increase in the program's budget - to nearly €68 billion (US$90 billion) - places heavy emphasis on health, food, agriculture and biotechnology. More than €9 billion is earmarked for cooperation in those fields, and they also will take a share of the €15 billion set aside for funding individual researchers, improving research infrastructure, or encouraging smaller firms in their research. The underlying objective of the spending is to leverage other sources of private and public funding and to encourage greater spending overall. Details of the program will be set out in specific legislative proposals later in the year.

The European biotechnology industry association, EuropaBio, welcomed the proposed research program - and particularly its provision for encouraging smaller firms.