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EU Legal Adviser OKs Italy's Right To Ban Modified Flour
Thursday March 13, 10:06 am ET

BRUSSELS -(Dow Jones)- In a setback to biotech companies, Europe's top legal adviser Thursday upheld Italy's right to ban genetically modified corn flour.

Advocate General Siegbert Alber said the ban can continue on GM products made by Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON - News) , Syngenta AG and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. (X.PNB). But he cautioned that Italy still must provide new, detailed evidence of the products' suspected risks.

The decision is likely to cause further frustration for U.S. officials. For the past four years, European Union (News - Websites) countries have imposed a moratorium at the national level on importing GM foods and seeds. Top U.S. trade official Robert Zoellick (News) has called the countries' approach "immoral" and "Luddite" and the U.S. administration is considering bringing suit at the World Trade Organization.

The U.S. estimates the European moratorium has cost it around $200 million a year in lost corn exports.

In Europe, individual governments must approve GM seeds and foods before they can be imported and used by farmers and processors. Many GM seeds and foods remain banned by individual countries, even though the European Union Commission (News) is fighting to end the moratorium.

The latest legal opinion upholds a country's right to block GM seeds and foods when danger is suspected.

The case dates back to August 2000, when Italy outlawed the flour. Since the U.K. and France already had approved the products, the companies involved said Italy's fears were overdone.

But Italy said the flour could pose dangers to health and the environment. The companies appealed, and an Italian court sent the case to E.U. judges for further guidance.

The biotech industry played down the significance of Thursday's decision, calling it only a minor legal setback. Europabio, a pro-GM industry group, said it believed Italy would repeal its ban and still needed to present evidence showing why it shouldn't follow the U.K. and French in approving the flour.

"Italy didn't present truly new evidence," said Simon Barber of Europabio. " We're confident these kinds of bans only will be upheld when real evidence comes to light."

The decision is preliminary, but the advocate general's opinion is followed in about 80% of cases by the full court. A final decision on the case is expected later this year.

-By James Kanter, Dow Jones Newswires; 322-285-0136;

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