Trade commissioner defends EU approach on GM

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Eu, International trade

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson yesterday delivered a strong
exhortation to the EU to take a lead in shaping global rules on GM
trade - particularly in defending objective science as a benchmark
- or suffer the economic consequences.

Mandelson's speech, in which he called biotechnology "the coal face of applied science in the 21st​ century",​ If the EU does not work through the issues raised by genetically modified (GM) food, just as the rest of the global market is doing, it will not be working it its own best interests, he said. And if the EU falls behind in approving safe biotechnology, it would open itself up to economic risks. The commissioner's view is a positive indication for advocates that barriers to GM in the bloc could be overcome, opening up a market that has so far been largely stonewalled by consumers. The EU has not approved any new GM products since 1998, and the governments of member states are drawn along opposing lines of opinion. Despite the lack of consensus, however, a small number of GMOs have been allowed as a result of a default process that applies after a period of non-agreement. The lack of action from the EU has angered exporters of GM products. Following a challenge brought by the US, Canada and Argentina, the World Trade Organisation ruled that the EU was violating trade rules through undue delay. Mandelson also underscored the importance of the EU adhering to its own rules, and politicians and risk-managers must defend the science that underpins risk-management systems to ensure rigorous testing of biotechnology. "A rigorous system means approving GM imports when the science is on their side just as we take a firm line when precaution is justified."​ Not sticking by this system, he said, could result in the devaluation of objective science as the most important benchmark. As far as the consequences go, Mandelson cited livestock as an area of EU farming that could feel the stain of GM-resistance, as it could become harder to source feedstock that is approved under EU rules. However it is the developing world where the advantages will be most keenly felt. Mandelson said that GM has already played a part in agricultural productivity revolutions, and through adapted bio-fuel crops GMOs are likely to be very important in agricultural responses to climate change.

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