European Union governments failed to overcome continental divisions on genetically modified foods Monday, deadlocking on an application to allow imports of a U.S. herbicide-resistant corn for human consumption.
EU agriculture ministers failed to get a majority for or against allowing Monsanto Co.'s Roundup Ready corn, which is widely grown in the United States and elsewhere, officials said. The application did not cover cultivation.
Roundup Ready corn, which is engineered to resist Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, received a clean bill of health from the European Food Safety Authority last year.
But nine EU countries — Latvia, Denmark, Cyprus, Malta, Italy, Greece, Austria, Portugal and Luxembourg — voted against the license. Nine others — Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Britain — voted in favor.
Hungary, Slovenia, Germany and Spain abstained, while Estonia and Poland expressed no view.
Environment ministers split along similar lines last month when considering Roundup Ready corn imports for animal feed. That application will now be approved Tuesday by the EU's executive Commission, spokeswoman Beate Gminder said.
Under EU rules, if ministers don't agree in 90 days, the commission decides.
A commission decision on the use of Roundup Ready corn in food and food ingredients is expected after Sept. 29.
The political stalemate reflects continuing unease in Europe over biotech foods despite the restarting last May — by the commission — of new approvals, which had been on hold for six years due to public fears over health and environmental risks.
After a similar deadlock, the commission approved a biotech variety of corn made by Switzerland's Syngenta AG for import and sale, but not cultivation. That followed the entry into force in the EU of the world's toughest rules on tracing and labeling bioengineered foods and ingredients.
The U.S. administration has accused the EU of violating international trade rules and exacerbating global hunger by hindering the marketing of genetically modified food for political, rather than scientific reasons.
Washington has said it will pursue its complaint against the EU at the World Trade Organization until it believes applications are being handled in an "objective, predictable manner." An initial ruling is expected in September.
By Paul Geitner