EU's Biggest Biotech Crop Banned (29/4/2004)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "At the moment, people think [GM] products are about as attractive as an atom bomb." - Heinz Mueller, chemicals analyst at DZ Bank AG in Frankfurt

Spain to Ban Syngenta Corn, EU's Biggest Biotech Crop (Update1)

April 29 (Bloomberg) -- Spain, the only European Union country where genetically modified crops are commercially grown, banned the planting of a Syngenta AG corn variety as of January, saying it may boost resistance to antibiotics.

The Bt176 variety of feed corn from Syngenta, the world's biggest maker of agricultural chemicals, "will no longer be allowed to be sown or cultivated,'' Spain's food-safety agency said on its Web site.

Syngenta, based in Basel, Switzerland, has sold the corn in Spain since 1998. Bt176 occupies almost two-thirds of the 32,000 hectares (79,000 acres) of Spanish land given over to gene- altered crops.

Gene-modified foods and crops still arouse suspicion in Europe, where the EU hasn't approved any for commercial use since 1998. A survey published last year found that only 2 percent of the U.K. population would eat gene-altered food.

In contrast, such foods are now common in the U.S., the world's biggest biotech producer now challenging the EU's six- year moratorium at the World Trade Organization in Geneva.

Eighty-one percent of soybeans planted in the U.S. last year were altered to make them resistant to herbicides, according to U.S. Agriculture Department statistics, and a quarter of the corn crop was altered to make it pest-resistant.

Gene-altered crops accounted for 3 percent of Syngenta's sales of $6.6 billion last year, company spokesman Markus Payer said.

`Obviously Political'

``We're strongly in favor of transparency, of giving growers and consumers the freedom to choose what they want,'' Payer said in a telephone interview. He called the Spanish decision ``obviously political.''

Spain's Socialist Party took control of the government on April 17, about a month after defeating the Popular Party in an election held three days following the country's worst-ever terrorist attack. The train bombings in Madrid killed at least 191 people and injured more than 1,400.

Spain's food-safety agency banned Bt176 after the European Food Safety Authority published scientific advice on bio- engineered plants, Ricardo Lopez de Haro, director of Spain's Office of Crop Varieties, said in an interview.

The Syngenta corn contains a marker gene that the EU agency said should be restricted to field trials, because it may confer resistance to ampicillin, the Spanish agency said. The European Commission hasn't made any decision based on the advice.

The European Commission won authority from EU members to end the ban last week and allow the import of a Syngenta gene- modified sweet corn, Bt11. Syngenta has applied for approval to cultivate Bt11 in the EU, Payer said.

Bayer AG last month abandoned plans to introduce its Chardon LL variety of GM animal-feed corn in the U.K., saying it wouldn't make money because of conditions that Prime Minister Tony Blair's government intended to attach to growing the crop.

To contact the reporter for this story: Peter McGill in London on [email protected]

To contact the editor for this story: Stephen Farr at [email protected] Last Updated: April 29, 2004 14:50 EDT  


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