EU must wake up from 'GM food inertia'

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Genetic engineering

When it comes to GM food, the EU needs to wake up from its
political inertia, according to biotechnology pressure group

The organisation, responding to what it sees as an opportunity being passed up, is holding a conference on 13 March 2007 in Lyon, France to discuss the issue. Panellists will include Dr Hans Kast, president and CEO of BASF Plant Science Holding, and Dr Bernward Gerthoff, chairman of the German Association of Biotech Industries-DIB. "The proven benefits that green biotechnology can bring to farmers, the environment, consumers and society are already acknowledged and recognised by many at European level,"​ said the organisation. "Despite a very stringent regulatory system for the assessment, approval and monitoring of agricultural biotech products put in place in Europe, there are still endless debates between opponents and advocates. "Such debates result in a highly politicised European process for product authorisation that is very slow and in some instances prohibits the placing on the market of safe and beneficial products."​ EuropaBio claims that the consequence of this ambivalent position is the denial of freedom of choice for European farmers and consumers and negative influence on developing countries towards their adoption of biotech crops including those produced in their own countries to meet their own needs. Indeed, within the European biotechnology sector, there is a real fear that the bloc is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of access to agricultural biotechnology. Marc Van Montagu, the president of the European Federation of Biotechnology, told journalists in Brussels recently that the technology, which has been oriented to helping developing countries, could also be of great benefit to European food production. Montagu's comments follow the publication of new figures from The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). The new statistics show that in 2006 the number of hectares globally cultivated with GM​ crops increased by 12 million hectares. Most of this growth came from countries such as China and India, while most EU farmers "continue to be held back by a dysfunctional regulatory system and by disproportionate co-existence rules,"​ according to Montagu. The issue of GM approval within the EU is one of the most contentious in agriculture. The recent announcement that US authorities had traced amounts of unapproved genetically modified (GM) food in samples of rice prompted the EU to clamp down on all imports from the US. The immediacy of this action illustrated the stringent controls the EU has in place to guard against unauthorised products entering the food chain, and also reflected consumer fears over the technology. Nonetheless, in 2006, farmers cultivated approved biotech crops on 65 000 hectares in six European Member States (Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, Czech Republic and Slovakia). EuropaBio said that this would likely increase this year.

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