Brussels hosts long anticipated GM debate

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gm Genetically modified organism Genetically modified food

The approval process of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and
the future of three GM products are up for discussion today by the
European Commission.

The current situation facing GMOs in Europe is inconsistent, with bans on the cultivation of GM crops implemented in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece. Today's debate has been much anticipated by both supporters of biotechnology and critics, as all hope for some reforms to GM policy to bring it in line with recent developments across the industry and in public perceptions. Additionally, organisations are eager to finally see a decision on the fate of three cultivation dossiers, which have been in the pipeline for many years. The last time a GM product was approved was in 1998. Commissioners could today decide the future of two GM maize varieties containing isecticides, developed by Syngenta and Pioneer/Dow. Also on the table is BASF's Amflora potato - a GM potato containing genes that provide resistance to certain antibiotics. GM opinions across industry ​ Nathalie Moll, director of green biotechnology at EuropaBio, said: "Recent polls have shown 20 per cent of Britons and Europeans are concerned about GMOs, demonstrating that the Europeans are moving away from their historical stance on such products. Therefore, we would like to see all institutions mirroring this in their decisions." ​Ian Ferguson, chief executive of Tate & Lyle and president of the UK Food and Drink Federation, said: "As a nation [the UK], we have to face up to the issue of genetic modification and as an industry we have to rise to the challenge of helping to foster a fair and scientific debate on an issue that has typically been clouded by suspicion and lack of trust."​However, environment organisations remain cautious over GM products, fearing their possible long term health risks and effects on the environment. One of the main concerns is regarding cross-contamination with conventional crops. "The Commission has its back to the wall and Barroso must face up to his responsibilities​," said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU GMO campaign director. "The Commission cannot once again pass the buck to EFSA, but must address the concerns of the scientific community and member states​," added Contiero. And Friends of the Earth Europe campaigner, Helen Holder, said: "Growing these GM crops would put farming and wildlife at an unacceptable risk. The Commission's own department in charge of GMOs is proposing to reject the two maize varieties. Never before have Barroso and his commissioners thrown out a proposal, so why should they do so now?​" Current GM cultivation inEurope​ At the moment, the only type of GM crop grown in the EU is maize, which was approved in 1998. It is not cultivated for human consumption but for animal feed. The maize contains a gene that defends the crop against the European corn borer, an insect pest that eats the stem, present primarily in southern and middle Europe but moving northwards. One of the main concerns regarding GM crops is that pollination could cross-contaminate non-GM crops grown in the vicinity - and that ultimately the long-term health effects of GM on humans are not known. Last year, over 110,000 hectares of biotech crops were harvested in seven EU member states, compared to 62,000 hectares in 2006. This represents a 77 per cent increase. French GM crop cultivation experienced the greatest increase in Europe, quadrupling in size from 5,000 hectares in 1996 to over 21,000 hectares last year.

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