* Global soybean trade now dominated by GMO varieties
* GMO approval seen taking twice as long in EU
By Nigel Hunt
STOKE POGES, England, July 3 (Reuters) - Slow European Union approval of genetically modified soybeans is likely to pose a growing threat to trade as the pace of development accelerates, American Soybean Association President Steve Wellman said on Tuesday.
"The potential for market disruption is going to increase," he said, adding that it took around four years to get EU approval compared with about two years in countries such as the United States and Brazil.
Wellman told Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Oilseed Producers Dialogue (IOPD) that U.S. growers had generally avoided planting GMO soybeans that had not yet received European Union approval.
If they grow GM strains that do not have EU approval, growers risk that small amounts are found in shipments of approved soybeans, which the EU could then reject. The European Union is the second-largest importer of soybeans after China.
One exception to holding off on growing is soybeans that have been modified to have a high oleic content, a trait for which seed companies have been seeking EU approval for about five years. These soybeans are now in a second U.S. growing season.
High-oleic oils enable food companies to produce products with a longer shelf life without using trans fats, which have been linked to coronary heart disease.
"We are possibly not going to be able to maintain that (waiting for EU approval before growing elsewhere)," Wellman said.
He said it was possible that some private companies might not even seek EU approval for certain traits in the future, adding this raised the possibility of disruptions to exports to the region.
The EU last year agreed to allow traces of unapproved GMO material in animal feed imports but only if the crops in question had been approved in a non-EU producing country and an EU authorisation request had been lodged for at least three months.
A similar system for GMOs in food imports is due to be proposed shortly by the bloc's executive.
Environmental campaigners and consumer groups have accused the EU of caving in to GM industry lobbying by reversing its "zero-tolerance" policy on unauthorised GM crops.
Some environmentalists say the effect of consuming GM crops is unknown and that these varieties have not completed the EU's safety assessment process.
Wellman noted that in the United States around 96 percent of soybeans were genetically modified, in Argentina about 99 percent, in Brazil 90 percent and 100 percent in Paraguay and Uruguay.
Those countries account for about 95 percent of global soybean exports, according to International Grains Council forecasts for 2012/13.
Andrew Watts, combinable crops chairman for Britain's National Farmers Union, said he did not anticipate a significant speeding up in the EU's approval process in the near future.
"Things aren't difficult enough yet for there to be the political will to get a resolution," he told Reuters.
IOPD members include the ASA, the Australian Oilseeds Federation, the Brazilian Soybean Growers Association, the European farmers and European cooperative organizations (Copa-Cogeca) and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. (editing by Jane Baird)