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Scientists started working back in the 1990s to genetically engineer a soybean thatís oil would be free of artery-clogging trans fats, a product farmers think will appeal to consumers as well as food-makers and fast-food chains.
But even though federal regulators approved a soybean variety in 2010 developed by a unit of DuPont, the crop is still only being grown on limited acreage under strict rules to ensure it is kept separate from other soybeans.
The reason is at the heart of a major issue facing U.S. and European negotiators as they try to work out a trade deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, that can get ratified by Congress.
DuPont has been unable to get the European Unionís approval for the new product, one of an array of genetically engineered crops that are stalled in an EU approval process, even though the company first applied for EU approval in 2007.
DuPont doesnít plan to market the biotech seeds in Europe and doesnít expect the cooking oil to sell there either, because of European resistance to many genetically engineered foods, which are produced from genetically modified organisms.
DuPontís concern, and the concern of U.S. farmers, is that a soy shipment to Europe could be accidentally contaminated with traces of the new soybean, which goes by the trade name Plenish. So, until the EU approves the crop, sales and cultivation of the seeds will continue to be restricted in the United States.
Most of the soybeans now grown in the United States are genetically engineered. The EU allows importation from the United States of some GMO varieties it has approved already ó so the concern is about contamination by unapproved beans such as Plenish.
Even a small amount of contamination could lead to a shutdown of soybean trade. Foreign countries donít hesitate to block shipments of U.S. farm commodities if itís possible they contain minute amounts of biotech products those nations havenít approved. Japan and South Korea both imposed bans on U.S. wheat this spring, when stray plants of an unapproved biotech variety were discovered growing in Oregon.
ďThe problem is that Europe just delays and delays and delaysĒ making decisions on applications, said Matt OíMara, director of international affairs for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the trade group that represents biotech seed giants such as DuPont and Monsanto Co., which has developed a similar soybean to DuPontís. ďWe want there to be a commitment to change this practice, and we believe TTIP is the most effective way to do it.Ē