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9-Misc: GE proponents try to "rebuild" trust in the EU



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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Labelling laws leave EU in GMO quandry
SOURCE: Reuters, by David Evans
DATE:   November 9, 2001

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


FEATURE - Labelling laws leave EU in GMO quandry

BRUSSELS - Europe's attempts to solve a transatlantic row over genetically 
modified organisms (GMOs) by tough food labelling rules have yet to bear 
fruit, leaving the 15-nation bloc vulnerable to legal challenge, officials 
say. With policy makers acutely aware of balancing public concerns over new 
varieties of gene-spliced crops with their potential benefits, the European 
Commission plans compulsory labels for all food products made from them. 
But public opinion in Europe, bruised by the mad cow and dioxin scandals, 
has proved sceptical to GMOs, often characterised in the press as 
"Frankenstein foods".

The strict measures have raised problems with U.S. farmers and exporters, 
who believe them to be unworkable. But they may be able to live with them 
if - as the Commission wants - they lead to the swift lifting of a three-
year-old de facto ban on approvals of new GM varieties in Europe. Under new 
traceability proposals, any food product derived from a GM crop must be 
labelled as such, even if the genetic material is removed during the 
manufacturing process - as is the case with some vegetable oils. The laws 
will require manufacturers to provide certificates of GM content at each 
stage of the production process, an obligation that U.S. farmers say will 
add to costs and be an administrative burden open to mistakes and fraud. 
They would prefer a system based on the testing for GM content of the final 
product placed on the market.


ATTEMPT TO END APPROVALS BAN

The Commission has been forced to take a tough line to appease a hard core 
of six EU countries, led by France, which have said they would not 
authorise any new GM crops until the laws were in place. A total of 13 GM 
varieties have been in regulatory limbo since 1998, leaving companies like 
Monsanto and Novartis waiting for years to know whether their new strains 
of modified maize, soy and cotton can be sold in the EU. Commission 
president Romano Prodi has raised fears that Europe could suffer 
economically by falling behind in the biotech race and that the anti-GM 
lobby has been given too free a hand in shaping consumer opinion.

EU food safety Commisioner David Byrne has said more must be done to 
explain the issues to the public. "Very often the debate on GMOs has 
generated more heat than light. We must ensure, as political leaders, that 
unbiased facts on biotechnology are placed before our citizens to see and 
understand," he said in a recent speech. The Commission has now proposed 
that approvals restart immediately, even though the new labelling laws have 
not yet been adopted - a process that could take another two years. It 
suggested last month that the EU should license new GMOs as long as their 
makers agreed to be bound by the new rules.

Europe's biotech industry said it welcomed the Commission's efforts to 
bring the de facto moratorium to a swift end. "We especially applaud the 
efforts and leadership of the European Commission in ensuring that the 
regulatory process on GM plants comes back on track," said Hugo Schepens, 
Secretary General of the industry lobby EuropaBio. "We are keen to ensure 
that the labelling and traceability laws meet member state requirements and 
consumer demands while recognising the realities of agricultural 
production. With the proven health and environmental safety track record of 
such crops, the continuation of the de facto moratorium is indefensible," 
Schepens added.


MEMBER STATES STICK TO THEIR GUNS

However, it appears that the hard core of member states are sticking to 
their guns, and demanding the legislation be fully in place on the statute 
books before any new approvals could be made. At a meeting of EU 
environment ministers in Luxembourg last month, only Spain, the Netherlands 
and Britain showed any willingness to accept the Commission's idea. "It 
isn't possible to start discussing a possible end to the moratorium as long 
as there is no operational system on traceability and labelling, and that 
is some way off," the French Environment Minister Yves Cochet told the 
meeting.

Some countries, such as France and Luxembourg, are also hinting they may 
insist on additional laws covering the environmental liability of GMOs - 
leading to extra delays. This has left the Commission with a dilemma, as it 
believes the blocking of new GM strains, which have been scientifically 
tested, cannot be justified under international law. It fears a legal suit 
from the biotech firms which, it believes, could force it to overrule 
national governments and approve the GM crops for use anywhere in the EU.

"This is problematic and I don't know how to solve it," EU Environment 
Commissioner Margot Wallstrom told the ministers. "We are in an illegal 
situation." Wallstrom also said the EU may be open to a complaint from the 
United States at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). And with biotech giant 
Monsanto planning to commercialise the first ever genetically modified 
wheat in 2003, the pressure on EU governments to resolve the issue can only 
increase.


                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Persuading the wary - consumers, GMOs and mistrust
SOURCE: Reuters, by Sharman Esarey
DATE:   November 9, 2001

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


FEATURE - Persuading the wary - consumers, GMOs and mistrust

LONDON - The debate may have cooled and slipped off newspapers' front 
pages, but European consumers still show little appetite for genetically 
modified foods three years after near panic swept them off supermarket 
shelves. The European Union, anxious not to cede the scientific race, has 
gently tried to reopen a public debate, but so far there are few signs that 
moves to address consumer concerns will jumpstart stalled EU approvals for 
GM crop growing. Consumers still distrust authorities who claimed mad cow 
disease could not hurt humans - only to have 100 people die from the human 
variant. They fear long-term environmental harm and are unwilling to be 
reassured by safety claims.

This time, they would simply rather be safe than sorry.

"If the biotech industry or governments want to recover a place for GM 
crops and food in Europe I'm afraid they have got to do it on the public's 
terms, or not at all, because they've lost its trust," said Dr Donald 
Bruce, director of the Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and 
Technology Project.(SRTP) In the three years since the widespread rejection 
of GM food products, industry and governments have stepped up efforts to 
understand and address consumer concerns. But they are a long way from 
accomplishing the job.

"The new European Commission proposals for mandatory labelling of GM foods 
by process of manufacture are essential if people are to have any real 
choice," said Bruce, whose SRTP is due to update its GM study "Engineering 
Genesis" next year. "But they are rather like locking the stable door after 
the horse has bolted," he said.


THE CREDIBILITY GAP

Many say it will be a long hard haul. Environmental groups who are 
fundamentally opposed to genetic modification feel they have secured a 
victory but they would likely ride to battle again should the threat 
reappear. "They probably feel they've secured a very definite victory in 
Europe and delayed it for a decade and they may well be right," said Dr 
Sandy Thomas, director of the British-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 
"I think what's obvious now...whatever Europe does is going to be in 
isolation to the rest of the world," she said. "Whatever happens in the 
next 10 years - and I suspect in Europe that will not be a lot in terms of 
GM technology - much of the rest of the world will continue..."

Still, some say consumers might be persuaded of the merits of the 
genetically modified case were certain standards met. But that won't be 
easy. Biotechnology in agriculture has not offered tangible benefits the 
way it has in medicine. "Consumers in Europe made a simple risk-benefit 
equation," said Bruce. "They asked very reasonably 'What are the benefits 
and risks of GM food. The benefits are mostly for seed and biotech 
companies in the United States, and if there are risks, they are all ours, 
so why should we eat the stuff?"


REBUILDING TRUST

At the root of public concern is GMO decision-making made solely on a 
narrow assessment of scientific risk, said the Agriculture and Environment 
Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), the British government's biotech advisor, 
in its September report. "The public is not necessarily expressing a lack 
of trust in science or scientists, but simply pointing out that judgements 
are being made, both within and beyond the science, which demand wider 
public involvement," the AEBC said.

Risk is a big concern, but scientific estimates of potential risks of new 
human allergies or environmental change are only one part of the picture. 
There are underlying notions about tampering with nature and irreversible 
change which have to be taken seriously, as well as the simple case of 
giving people a fair choice.

The following are some of the main hurdles ethicists and roundtable groups 
insist GMO foodstuffs must take to win over wary, battered consumers:
- have a nutritional or health benefit
- have insignificant health risks
- minimise environmental damage in light of damage caused by conventional 
agriculture
- be tested independently with public or charitable funds
- be labelled
- be commercialised through a process that involves more than a scientific 
risk assessment.

Despite the size of the job, the European Commission plans to unveil a 
policy initiative at the end of the year to make Europe a world leader in 
the field of biotechnology.


COSTS VERSUS BENEFITS

But the costs of some of these "musts" may well cripple the industry, 
handicapping its ability to come up with a next generation which is aiming 
at nutritional and health benefits. "The opportunity costs of what we are 
seeing are simply phenomenal," said Dr Henry I Miller, a former senior 
official in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, now a fellow at the 
Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University. "When you over-
regulate a technology to the point that it is no longer cost-effective, it 
goes away," Miller said.

The AEBC report recognises that the EU approach, which regulates 
specifically for GMOs, suggests they are unique in their potential impact 
on the environment. "From a scientific perspective, there is little reason 
why the full weight of regulatory oversight should fall on GM crops. Many 
would argue that there are potentially more environmentally damaging 
practices...in conventional agriculture," it said.

Gregory Conko, director of food safety policy at the U.S.-based Competitive 
Enterprise Institute, a non-profit public policy organisation dedicated to 
free enterprise and limited government, added that we may be accepting 
risks and forgoing benefits with the current approach. "A product coming on 
the market may have a certain risk but it may still be net beneficial to 
the health and environment. What we would like is a regulatory system that 
weighs both of these equally," Conko said.

For some scientists, who regard GMOs as a refinement of cruder, older 
technologies, the consumer response can be, at least in part, blamed on 
government officials, who according to Miller, "prefer regulation to 
education." "If public officials, including regulators, had spent one 
percent of the time on educating the public that they've spent on 
implementing unnecessary regulation, the public would understand that what 
we have is an improvement, and that these products are more predictable, 
more precisely crafted and ultimately safer," Miller said.



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