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Environmental groups appeal to EU to tighten biotech rules

Environmental groups appealed to the European Union on Monday to reject applications from the biotech industry to approve new potato and corn products for cultivation in the EU.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe also argued for tighter rules on biotech crops to ensure such genetically modified products are kept off the market until there is firm proof that they are safe.

The EU’s 27-member executive is to decide Wednesday whether to grant licenses for the use of two biotech corn products and an engineered potato. If approved, they would be the first new biotech crops authorized by the EU in a decade.

”Growing these GM crops would put farming and wildlife at an unacceptable risk,” said Helen Holder, from Friends of the Earth Europe.

The European Commission is under heavy pressure from both industry and environmental groups over the new products. The biotech industry claims such products offer resistance to pests, will help reduce global food shortages and offer no risk to health or the environment.

However, the environmentalists say there is a potential threat and more tests are needed.

They are calling for a tougher assessment from independent scientific groups and for bolstering the role of the EU’s food safety authority, which already drafts safety reviews on biotech products.

Holder told a news conference that she believes the EU will reject the applications to license the Bt-11 corn seed made by Switzerland’s Syngenta AG and the corn 1507 product produced by the U.S.-based Pioneer Hi-Bred and Dow Agrosciences.

The biotech industry has long claimed EU approval procedures are too slow and restrictive. It is pushing the EU to open its doors to more GM crops, arguing that that is the only way to deal with shortages of food in developing countries.

German chemicals giant BASF AG has warned of legal action if there is no decision soon on cultivation of their biotech potato crop, which has been under review for nine months. The two corn products have been under review since 2005.

The ”Amflora” potato is designed to provide starch for industrial uses, such as making glossy magazine coatings and as an additive in sprayable concrete. BASF says byproducts could also be used to make animal feed, if given further clearance, but the potato is not designed to be eaten by humans.

Environmental groups warn the potato contains a gene making it resistant to antibiotics that could spread to conventional crops and taint the food chain. They say food shortages are not due to Europe’s biotech rules and can easily be made up by increasing production of conventional crops.

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