The European Commission has authorised the import of GM soybean RoundupReady2, as well as food and feed products derived from it. With immediate effect, traces of technically unavoidable admixtures of this GM soybean will be approved in agricultural imports.
Although member states blocked each other during the approval process, with no qualified majority reached in the 'Standing Committee' or the Council of Ministers, the decision was eventually passed to the EU Commission, who approved the crop, based on a safety evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Developed by Monsanto, the new MON89788 GM soybean is tolerant to the herbicide Roundup. The new variety delivers higher yields than the RoundupReady soybean and some 2.5 million hectares are expected to be planted with RoundupReady2 soybeans by 2010.
The EU Commission and France, which currently holds the presidency of the EU Council, hope that the authorisation of the RoundupReady2 will stave off feared shortfalls in animal feed supplies, but the UK livestock industry has warned that the solution is only temporary.
"For now, the decision will mean that a source of soya remains available to the UK livestock industry, which is great, but one approval does not solve the overall issue," said NFU chief science and regulatory affairs adviser Dr Helen Ferrier.
Mick Sloyan, chief executive of BPEX, added: "There is already talk about new varieties being planted next year. We need much faster approval in the EU to keep up with plantings of GM crops in North and South America."
The approval of GM crops takes much longer in Europe than in the US and Latin America, which has limited sources of animal feed. In addition, a zero policy on contamination has led to shipments of non-GM and approved GM soya being turned away at European docks. The livestock industry has been campaigning in Brussels to raise awareness of the difficulties caused by these policies.
"RoundupReady2 was approved much quicker because the issue was raised at such a high level," said Ferrier. "Hopefully it will show that the process can be quicker and that stalling can be avoided while still ensuring that the proper risk assessments are in place."
Sloyan said the approval of RoundupReady2 still took "an awfully long time" and added that, once a variety has been approved in the US, approval in the EU should follow swiftly. "The bureaucracy surrounding EU authorisation is completely ridiculous. A variety is either safe or it is not," he said.
Two European groups are currently examining the EU's GM authorisation process - one set up by the French presidency and one set up by José Manul Barroso, president of the European Commission. Both are due to report back at the beginning of next year.