BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union (EU) is still blocking St. Louis-based Monsanto Corp.'s bid to win approval to commercially grow and sell genetically modified cotton seeds in the EU member territories, particularly Spain and Greece. The company's request, submitted to the EU by Spain in 1996, remains caught in the complex approval process, the European Commission confirmed on Feb. 12.

Peter Jorgensen, spokesman for European Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard, said the commission is backing the applications, and its scientific committees have given a favorable review. But EU member state governments are dragging their feet. A deadline for them to vote on the applications, through a so-called regulatory committee procedure, expired last week, and it was clear that there would not be the necessary majority for an approval.

Now, the discussion moves up to ministerial level, and a final decision could be made at the June meeting of the EU Environment Council. Meanwhile, the Dutch regulatory authorities have announced that the firm Avebe, of the Netherlands, has decided to withdraw its application to introduce a genetically modified potato, after having received a negative opinion from the scientific committee in October 1998. "That illustrates that the system of sound science in the commission is actually up and running and working," Jorgensen said. - Peter O'Donnell