The European Union said Friday it would approve for human consumption a variety of genetically modified corn, ending a 6-year moratorium on new biotech crops that the United States has challenged before the World Trade Organization (search).

European Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said the Swiss-based company Syngenta's (search) application to sell Bt11 sweet corn (search) would be approved at the commission's meeting on Wednesday, after EU member governments repeatedly deadlocked on it

The decision will be valid in all 25 EU countries for 10 years, he said.

The insect-resistant corn had been approved as animal feed and its derivatives, such as corn syrup, were approved for human consumption before the EU halted its approval process in 1998.

The new approval would allow companies to sell canned sweet corn from the Bt11 strain directly to consumers. Cultivation by farmers would still be forbidden.

The EU executive commission had long urged an end to the de facto moratorium, saying strict new traceability and labeling rules that went into effect last month provided adequate protection for consumers.

It also worried failure to restart the approval process would undermine its chances of defending itself against the Bush administration's WTO complaint, which says the ban is unscientific and violates international trade rules.

Under new EU rules, the decision went to the commission after EU governments failed to agree over several months. The application was first considered last December.

Last month, France, Portugal, Austria, Luxembourg, Greece and Denmark continued to oppose it. Spain, Belgium and Germany abstained, while Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden and Finland voted to approve it.

David Byrne, the EU's commissioner in charge of food safety, indicated his intention to push it through after that vote.

"I would imagine that, once these foods are authorized, they will be able to go on the market," he added at the time. "And I expect under those circumstances the member states will respect the laws of the European Union."

The Bt11 proposal is the first of some 34 applications to work its way through a new approval process since EU governments enacted the new rules for products with genetically modified ingredients last year.

Environmentalists continue to oppose the use of genetically engineered crops, charging they can damage both the environment and human health.

The Bt11 corn was first approved in United States and Canada in 1996 and has since been approved in Argentina, Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa and Switzerland.