BioWorld International Correspondent

Brussels, Belgium - Monsanto's genetically modified maize, NK603, finally won approval from the European Union Monday. Officials agreed to an authorization for import, feed use and industrial processing in the EU's 25 countries.

"We welcome the commission's decision to approve another plant biotech product in Europe, the second since 1998," said Johan Vanhemelrijck, secretary general of EuropaBio, the European association for bioindustries. "We hope that further approvals will follow."

Margot Wallström, commissioner for the environment, said: "The NK603 maize has been subject to a rigorous premarket risk assessment. It has been scientifically assessed by the European Food Safety Authority as being as safe as any conventional maize. Its safety is, therefore, not in question, and neither is the question of user or consumer choice." She added that the product is clearly labeled to help people make informed buying decisions and will be traced and monitored on the market.

But the decision has taken a long time, owing to reluctance by many EU member states to approve the application. For months EU ministers could not reach a decision in the Council of Ministers, but when the matter passed into the hands of EU officials in the European Commission, it was cleared in the face of member-state deadlock.

NK603 is field maize genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate herbicide. It provides farmers with additional options for weed control management. The GM field maize also is approved for import and food use in Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan and the United States. It was first approved in 2000.

In December, the EU's European Food Safety Authority gave a positive scientific opinion on the safety of NK603 - a decision that reflected earlier opinions from other regulatory authorities worldwide and experience in countries in which the maize already was approved, cultivated and used.

The decision is valid for 10 years. All imports, whether in bulk shipments, bags or other containers, will have to be labeled as containing genetically modified maize. A parallel request for EU authorization of cultivation of NK603 remains under consideration.

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