Romanian GM ban slammed by biotech industry

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gm crops European union

Europes biotech industry has criticised Romania's proposed ban on
transgenic soybeans, claiming that the decision will negatively
impact both the European food industry and consumers.

Transgenic soybeans conferring resistance to a popular herbicide have EU approval for use in food and feed but this product is awaiting EU approval for cultivation.

"Romanian farmers have been growing these crops safely for years and benefiting in terms of the increased income,"​ said Simon Barber, director of the plant biotech unit (PBU) of EuropaBio, the European association for the biotech industry.

"We urge the Romanian government to explore the possibilities for allowing farmers continued access to this technology."

The Romanian government announced the move after a high level meeting a few weeks ago.

"It was decided to ban GM (genetically modified) soy, starting with 1 January 2007 in accordance with current EU regulations,"​ it said in a statement.

"Romania will continue harmonising the national legislation with the European legislation and constituting the institutional framework to implement it, in order to enforce the inspection and control system of GMO related activities."

But EuropaBio believes that the proposals could affect the whole of Europe. It says that when Romania joins the EU, it will be the only country that is able to grow substantial quantities of soybeans.

"Last year alone, tens of thousands of hectares of GM soybeans were grown in Romania, a large part of which was exported to the European Union for use in animal feed,"​ said Barber.

"To deny Romanian farmers access to this technology would leave them at a competitive disadvantage versus Brazilian, Canadian and US soybean suppliers, who are already exporting this same product to the EU."

Demand for genetically modified crops has increased dramatically in the space of a decade. Farmer demand has driven annual double-digit increases in biotech crop adoption since the crops were first commercialised, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), with four new countries and a quarter million more farmers planting biotech crops last year.

The 8.5 million farmers planting biotech crops in 2005 also marked a significant milestone as the 1 billionth cumulative acre, or 400 millionth hectare, was planted.

EuropaBio argues that herbicide resistant soybeans have resulted in huge environmental benefits. It says that farmers in Romania have benefited by an average yield increase of 31 per cent, reduced costs of between 44.4 and 61.5 per hectare, and improved crop quality.

But opponents argue that after ten years of GM crops, no benefits to consumers or the environment have materialised.

"Contrary to the promises made by the biotech industry, the reality of the last ten years shows that the safety of GM crops cannot be ensured and that these crops are neither cheaper nor better quality,"​ said Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth (FoE) Nigeria.

All this of course is happening in the context of the recent WTO ruling, which said that the EU and six member states broke trade rules by barring entry to GM crops and foods. The world trade organisation agreed with the United States, Argentina and Canada that an effective moratorium on GMO imports between June 1999 and August 2003 had been put in place.

The pro-GM nations argued these prohibitions were not scientifically justified and thus contrary to WTO rules. The US food industry has persistently said that the EU ban has cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales. The EU on the other hand has consistently denied the existence of a moratorium, citing that no official communication to this effect has ever been made.

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