The European Commission on Monday approved Syngenta's genetically modified (GMO) MIR604 corn variety for import, a move that may prompt European Union (EU) animal feed makers to resume imports of U.S. soymeal and soybeans.

EU imports of U.S. soybeans and soymeal for animal feed have been at a near standstill since late summer, when shipments totaling more than 200,000 metric tons were refused entry because they contained traces of unapproved GMO corn varieties. The rejections led EU feed makers to voluntarily halt imports of U.S. soy.

The 27-member EU has a zero-tolerance policy on unauthorized GMOs. GMO approvals have been slow due to public safety concerns and have become a point of diplomatic tension.

The Syngenta corn was the last of four unapproved GMO corn varieties that EU feed makers were concerned about. At the end of October, the Commission approved the import of three other GMO corn varieties found in shipments of U.S. soy.

The Commission, the EU executive body, said in a statement that it had authorized the Syngenta corn variety for food and feed uses and imports and processing. "MIR604 maize received a positive safety assessment from the European Food Safety Authority and underwent the full authorisation procedure set up in the EU legislation," it said.

Alexander Doering, secretary general of European feed manufacturers' association FEFAC told Reuters News Service that the clearance should ease short-term concerns over the supply of affordable vegetable proteins used by livestock farms.

"We expect imports to resume now. Basically from now on, imports from North America such as soybean products and also maize products will be considered legal in EU territory," said Doering.

A recent pick-up in U.S. soybean sales to the EU suggests European end users may have been preparing for Monday’s GMO approval.

Last Friday’s USDA weekly export sales report showed France, Germany and the Netherlands purchased cargoes U.S. soybeans during the week ended Nov. 19.

Weekly U.S. soybean export sales to EU destinations totaled 193,600 (7.1 million bushels). Going into the week, U.S. soybean sales to EU member nations for 2009-2010 delivery were only 706,900 tons (26 million bushels). U.S. soybean sales to the EU are still running 30% behind a year ago.

Editor’s note: Richard Brock, Corn & Soybean Digest's marketing editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.