The European Commission has approved the import, processing and use in animal feed of Monsanto's NK603 Roundup Ready Corn grain in the European Union, conditional on pending approval under the EU Novel Foods Regulation.

Monsanto's NK603 corn, designed to be tolerant to the active ingredient in Roundup agricultural herbicides, is marketed as Roundup Ready Corn 2.

“Monsanto welcomes the Europeans Commission's ruling on Roundup Ready Corn 2 technology,” says Brett Begemann, executive vice president of international commercial for Monsanto. “This decision is welcome progress toward completing the necessary regulatory approvals for Roundup Ready Corn 2 technology in the EU. We're hopeful this is a signal the European Communities and its member states are serious about ending the moratorium on biotech approvals.”

Just hours before the announcement by Monsanto, the Council of Ag Ministers failed to reach a qualified majority on the use of NK603 corn and its processed products as foods and food ingredients under the Novel Foods Regulation. This decision will continue in the regulatory process.

The announced approval does not include the approval of Roundup Ready Corn 2 for cultivation in the EU, which is the subject of a separate submission under Directive 2001/18/EC. Monsanto awaits decisions on separate submissions for its corn trait technologies stacked with NK603 corn.

In mid-July, the Argentine government approved Monsanto's NK603 Roundup Ready for planting in that country. The approval ensures Argentine corn growers will have access to the technology in hybrids as early as the 2004 planting season and is expected to expand global adoption of the herbicide-tolerant technology.

Monsanto's preliminary 2004 sales data suggests acres planted with Roundup Ready Corn are expanding in the United States; acres planted are expected to increase for a seventh consecutive season and it is estimated to be planted on 16 million acres this season, up from 12 million acres last year.

“While we work to complete the remaining steps in the EU process, we remain focused on making progress in our marketing efforts for Roundup Ready Corn,” says Kerry Preete, vice president of U.S. Crop Production for Monsanto. “Throughout this season, we're working closely with U.S. growers and grain elevators to identify the existing domestic market opportunity for Roundup Ready Corn hybrids marketed under the Market Choices program.”

Growers planting Roundup Ready Corn 2 hybrids will need to market the grain under the Market Choices program until all remaining steps of the EU regulatory process are completed.

Monsanto believes the U.S. market for Roundup Ready Corn will be close to 20 million acres in the 2005 growing season, with a longer-term market potential of 50 million acres, according to Preete.