Europe is missing out on the biotech revolution in agriculture, said the president of the European Federation of Biotechnology.
Prof. Dr. Marc Van Montagus words come just days before an expected WTO ruling on the USs complaint against a European import ban of genetically modified (GM) products.
The announcement, expected later today, could provide pro-GM campaigners with significant impetus if it sides with the US viewpoint.
"Europe is lagging behind its worldwide competitors and European farmers are deprived of access to one of the fastest growing technologies in agriculture," he told a press conference in Brussels.
He added that the European Union is far behind its competitors in terms of number of hectares under GM cultivation.
Van Montagu produced the first GM plant in Europe. He is also convinced that technology transfer and plant biotechnology research could revolutionise both agriculture and the food industry.
"Fighting the vicious circle of hunger and poverty is the most urgent task that faces our society, and will require a reformulation of current models of agriculture," he said.
New figures published by The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), show that in 2005 the number of hectares globally cultivated with GM crops increased by 9.0 million hectares. Among the growing number of countries cultivating GM crops, five of them are EU Member States.
EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, says that this is encouraging, but European involvement still remains low in global terms.
"The fact that Europe is lagging behind in the commercialisation of GM-crops doesn't make things easier for young R&D driven companies," said Johan Vanhemelrijck, EuropaBio secretary general. "The question is how many companies decided not to start up in this area in Europe, and how many opportunities have we lost to maintain our leadership?"
In any case, the US-led dispute over GM in Europe is coming to a head this week. A WTO dispute settlement panel is expected to release its preliminary decision later today after several delays.
The battle is seen as one of the most technical disputes ever handled by the decade-old WTO.
Opposition to genetically modified (GM) foods) is likely to increase if the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in favour of a US-led complaint against European GM policy.Pressure group Friends of the Earth has already accused the WTO of being secretive, undemocratic and biased towards business interests, and charged that it is the wrong institution to settle disputes of this kind.
"The World Trade Organisation should keep its hands off our food," said Friends of the Earth Europe's trade co-ordinator Alexandra Wandel.
The 149 trading nations in the WTO set the framework for global commerce. The Geneva-based organisation referees disputes between its members and can authorise retaliatory customs duties against rule-breakers.