European Union governments delivered a blow Monday to the biotechnology industry, allowing Austria and Hungary to maintain national bans on growing genetically modified crops from Monsanto.The vote was also a setback for the European Commission, the union’s executive arm. The commission has sought to ease the restrictions in Europe on gene-altered crops, in part to keep down the cost of animal feed.
The vote, taken by European environment ministers, could irritate Washington, which has complained to the World Trade Organization about obstacles to planting bioengineered crops.
Member countries were “firm” and the “commission should take a close reading of the result,” the French environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, said after the announcement in Brussels, according to Bloomberg News.
The market for genetically engineered crops is worth several billion dollars worldwide. Only one genetically altered crop is currently grown in Europe: a form of corn, called MON 810, produced by Monsanto and other companies.
In 2003, Argentina, Canada and the United States brought complaints about Europe’s biotechnology policies to the W.T.O., which ruled in 2006 that a de facto ban on imports of genetically modified foods from 1984 to 2004 violated trade rules.
Since that ruling, the commission has required Austria to drop its ban on imports of genetically modified foods. But some other countries have maintained bans on imports and cultivation of such crops.
“The risk has increased this morning that attention now will be thrown back to the W.T.O.,” said Willy De Greef, the secretary general of Europabio, a biotechnology industry organization in Brussels.
The United States Mission to the European Union had no immediate comment. Officials at offices of the United States trade representative could not be reached.
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