LONDON – British officials have announced a conditional approval for the commercialization of a genetically enhanced corn hybrid for cultivation by British farmers.

Used as a cattle feed, the biotech corn hybrid was developed by Bayer CropScience, the Monnheim, Germany-based agricultural division of Bayer Corp. British scientist conducted extensive testing to determine if the corn had any adverse impacts on surrounding plants and wildlife before approving the hybrid.

In the United States, the National Corn Growers Association said it was encouraged by Britain’s action and hopes it will lead to similar approval of biotech crops in the European Union.

“We’ve been working tirelessly to spread the word about the benefits of biotech corn and the need to use sound science when reviewing this promising technology,” said Helen Inman, chair of NCGA’s Biotechnology Working Group. “We are pleased that the British government did not succumb to the pressure and empty rhetoric of activist groups.

“Despite countless studies and years of research, there are those who still deride the technology and refuse to acknowledge the environmental and consumer benefits.” (British environmental lobbyists expressed disappointment in the government’s decision.)

The Corn Growers Association’s policy calls for the development of internationally accepted, science-based tolerance standards and adherence to international rules.

The herbicide-tolerant corn is not currently grown in any EU nations, though similar hybrids have been popular in the United States. Britain would become the fourth EU member state to commercialize biotech corn. However, Spain remains the only country to plant significant acreage with 79,000 acres in 2003, up more than 33 percent from the year before.

“While the news from Britain is good, we cannot ignore that Europe still maintains a six-year moratorium on biotechnology that continues to cost the corn industry $250 million annually,” Inman said. “And in spite of EU attempts to begin biotech approvals, the new traceability and labeling regulations to be implemented in April may hinder trade to a larger extent.”

To further examine the current impasse with the EU and the impacts of the new traceability and labeling regulations, NCGA is hosting a conference in Washington, D.C., March 16.

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