Romania, which has been one of the most receptive markets on a skeptical Continent for genetically modified crops, is moving toward a reversal of its stance, in what would be another setback for the beleaguered biotechnology industry in Europe.
Attila Korodi, Romania’s environment minister, said he would ask a committee of experts Thursday to revaluate a gene-altered version of corn, MON810, the only modified crop that has been approved for commercial planting in the European Union.
During an interview, Korodi said not enough studies had been done to gauge the effects of the corn on ecological systems in Romania, including in the Black Sea area.
In addition, he said, banning biotech crops could increase rural prosperity by allowing farmers to take advantage of a growing global demand for organic feed and foodstuffs, which, in addition to being unaltered, are grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Such products can command higher prices – although experts question whether farming practices in much of Eastern Europe are developed enough for such a specialized market.
"I think becoming an organic country is a good thing," Korodi said. "We have to analyze the true costs of growing GMOs," he added, since the technology was potentially harmful to the environment and had become widely unpopular in Romania.
An actual ban would still be some ways off and could require parliamentary support, he said.
But its consideration, coming a month after France imposed a similar ban on the corn variety, would be another obstacle for the industry in Europe, where there is widespread skepticism about biotech foods. Specifically, it would hurt the U.S. seed company Monsanto, which produces MON810.
Romania, the biggest corn grower in the 27-member EU by hectares under cultivation, represents a vast potential market for Monsanto and other biotechnology companies. MON810 is designed to combat pests and enhance yields.
"We would be very disappointed to see Romania following France even in attempting to ban such a product, which has proved its benefits to farmers in Romania," said Cristina Cionga, the manager for public and government affairs for Monsanto Romania. "Our products are completely safe for planting and consumption."
EU authorities approved MON810 for cultivation a decade ago, but since then four EU countries – Austria, Greece, Hungary and, most recently, France – have imposed bans. Poland operates restrictions on the sale and import of gene-altered seeds, and very little cultivation takes place there.
Most of these countries, including France and Hungary, which are the second- and third-biggest corn growers in Europe, justified the bans on the grounds that the crops potentially could harm soils and reduce biodiversity.
Even in countries that do not operate formal bans, there are impediments.
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