Officials from German chemical giant BASF AG said on Tuesday they remained hopeful they could get EU approval to start cultivation of their genetically engineered potato by next year's growing season.
A final green light from the EU's executive commission for BASF's "Amflora" potato product, would be the first EU approval of a biotech crop for cultivation in Europe in a decade.
"We are still looking forward to getting approval on time to start commercial cultivation next year," said Hans Kast, CEO of BASF's Plant Science division, which developed the potato.
He said, however, that time to prepare and sell seeds would run out if a decision is not made by the end of this month.
"Our farmers need to know by Christmas for planting," Kast said.
Approval of the biotech potato, along with two genetically modified corn products, has become the focus of heavy industry and environmental lobbying at the headquarters of the EU, which has the final say on granting licenses.
Kast said there was no reason to delay final approval because numerous safety studies had found the potato posed no health risks to humans or animals.
The product has already passed a safety check by the EU's European Food Safety Authority and it is not meant for human consumption. Instead, the potato would provide starch for industrial uses, such as making glossy magazine coatings and as an additive in sprayable concrete.
Byproducts will be used to make animal feed, Kast said.
Environmental groups have warned that the genetically modified potato contains a gene that makes it resistant to antibiotics. That gene, the advocates say, could spread to conventional crops planted nearby and taint the food chain.
BASF officials rejected those claims and said the gene in dispute did not pose a risk.
If approved, the crop would likely be grown in Germany, the Netherlands and France, Kast said.
In May, 2004, the EU ended a six-year moratorium on applications for new biotech products and introduced strict approval procedures and labeling regulations. But several EU nations remain reluctant to authorize biotech crops because of public health and environmental concerns.
New applications have faced years of analysis both by national and EU officials. And 11 EU countries, including Italy, Austria, Greece and Poland, tried to block the product in July.
However, they did not muster enough votes to reject the application outright, as Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden led a group of supporters.
Under EU rules, the European Commission has the final authority to decide on clearing new biotech crops if member states reach a stalemate.
However, it remains unclear when such a decision will be made.
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