BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European biotechnology industry expressed renewed disappointment over hesitancy by the European Union on biotechnology decisions.

The EU's civil service, the European Commission, hesitated on Sept. 8 to set thresholds for adventitious contamination of non-GM seed with genetically modified varieties. The commission withdrew the subject from its agenda, and it is unlikely to be discussed again until the new commission takes up office on Nov. 1.

"It is regrettable that, once again, the commission has chosen to ignore its responsibility to establish a common European legal basis for the setting of thresholds for trace levels of GM seed in conventional seed," said Simon Barber of EuropaBio, the main EU lobby group for the industry.

EuropaBio and other stakeholders said they were disappointed, because they had worked with the commission for more than five years to establish practical and workable thresholds.

But environmentalist groups welcomed the postponement, which they described as "a golden opportunity to bring out better proposals that will protect people and the environment." Adrian Bebb, spokesman for Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE), said, "Public safety must come before the financial interests of the biotechnology industry."

At the same time, senior EU officials decided to recommend authorizing the import and processing of genetically modified oilseed rape, known as GT73, but their decision can be overturned by ministers from the EU member states at any time during the next three months.

They also agreed to allow farmers to commercially grow up to 17 different types of genetically modified maize seeds from Monsanto Co. in fields across Europe. The seeds now will be commercially available to farmers across the EU.

FoEE condemned the authorization for genetically modified maize seeds, complaining that it "will threaten Europe's food and farming and take away consumers' right to avoid GM food."

EU member states are due to put national measures into place on "co-existence" - to separate GM crops from conventional crops, so as to avoid contamination. But only one country - Denmark - has done so. FoEE said that without co-existence rules "the widespread contamination of conventional crops is highly likely, posing a massive threat to Europe's food, farming and environment."

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