GENET archive


2-Plants: New EU moratorium on GM cultivation

                                  PART I
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TITLE:  New EU moratorium on GM cultivation
SOURCE: Biotech Mailout, Friends of the Earth Europe
DATE:   Jul 2005

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New EU moratorium on GM cultivation

The EU Environment Commissioner has blocked all new applications for
growing GM crops in Europe. According to newspaper reports, Stavros Dimas
has ordered all applications to be halted until the issues of co-
existence and the contamination of seeds are addressed at a European
level. The new moratorium is likely to be a big set back for the biotech
companies; they were hoping this year would see the first approval to
grow GM crops for seven years.

The moratorium has the potential to last a long time. The Agriculture
Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, has still not made any clear
commitment to bring in EU laws for coexistence, and the seed
contamination issue is a long-running dilemma for the Commission with no
solution in sight. Neither issue looks likely to be solved this year.
However, while solutions to these problems are key to protecting GM-free
farming and consumer choice, another area of debate is rising up the
agenda. A clash of opinions looks likely about how to assess the impact
of approving GM crops for cultivation on EU biodiversity.

GM maize

There are currently two applications to grow GM maize nearing completion
in the EU. The front-runner is called '1507' and is made jointly by
Pioneer Hi-Bred International (a subsidiary of DuPont) and Dow
AgroSciences. Not far behind is Syngenta's Bt11 maize. Both GMOs are
insect-resistant Bt maize; they have been engineered to resist insect
pests by producing an insecticidal 'Bt' toxin which can also be harmful
to other insects, including butterflies and moths. Both GMOs recently
received positive opinions from the European Food Safety Authority.

The two applications followed a seven year pause in approvals. This pause
resulted from Member States' concerns that the previous approval
procedure did not require a sufficiently rigorous environmental risk
assessment; GMOs could be approved that might turn out to be harmful to
the environment. New procedures were laid down in Directive 2001/18, and
these require the company, Member States and the Commission to assess a
wider range of environmental issues than before, including consideration
of indirect effects on wildlife and the environment.

In line with this new approach, Member States across the EU assessed the
application for '1507' maize, and the consequences for wildlife of
growing it. In their comments1, made last year, fifteen out of seventeen
national authorities raised concerns about the effects of the GM maize on
'nontarget' organisms such as European butterflies and moths, predatory
insects, soil organisms and parasitoids. Some countries mentioned that
the application gave almost no consideration to the climatic and
ecological differences across the 25 countries of the EU. Moreover,
because the toxin produced by the GMO is specifically toxic to
butterflies and moths, it was pointed out that the biotech companies had
failed to provide any information about the risks for European species.
As a result of these concerns, the majority of Member States made
objections to the approval of the GMO for cultivation in Europe.

EFSA gets involved

The Commission then asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to
provide an opinion on the safety of the GM maize. In January 2005, the
GMO Panel of EFSA published its findings about the environmental safety
of the GM maize, and concluded that: "the information available for 1507
maize addresses the outstanding questions raised by the Member States".
Not only this, but the Panel stated that it: "agrees with the assessment
of the applicant", effectively dismissing all the concerns of the Member
States. The conclusion of the GMO Panel was in sharp contrast to that of
the national level authorities from whom there was broad agreement in
entirely the opposite direction.

Against the background of Directive 2001/18, the GMO Panel's Opinion
makes surprising reading. It is possible to see clear areas where the
requirements of the Directive do not appear to have been taken into
account. For example, the Directive requires consideration of harmful
effects on organisms other than the targeted pest species. Bt maize
targets the European corn borer - a moth pest - so there must be an
assessment of the risk to other moths and butterflies. The Directive also
requires risk assessments to be based on scientific evidence and to
outline areas of uncertainty. Yet the EFSA consideration of risks to
European butterflies and moths is astonishingly brief; the GMO Panel
simply comments that maize "is not a significant food source for endemic
Lepidoptera". This is a sweeping generalisation, covering thousands of
species in 25 countries. It is apparently not supported by scientific
evidence, and only raises a series of questions that cannot be answered
from the Opinion (see box).

Similar examples can be found throughout the Opinion. Such an assessment
of the risks for moths and butterflies, in places the same almost word
for word, has also been included in the GMO Panel's Opinion on Syngenta's
Bt11 maize. And this is not some dry, academic issue; biodiversity across
the EU has suffered a catastrophic decline over the last thirty years, in
large part due to agricultural intensification. The provisions in
Directive 2001/18 are there to protect EU biodiversity from further harm.

Missing expertise

So why is the GMO panel apparently so unaware of the Directive's
requirements? Why has it reached such a different conclusion to Member
States? The answer may lie in a mismatch between what the panel was set
up to do, and what it is now being asked to do.

The purpose of the European Food Safety Authority is spelled out in its
name, a purpose in which the environment is not the main objective. As a
result, the GMO Panel seems to have been structured with food safety
issues in mind: a majority of the panel have backgrounds in biochemistry
and molecular biology; only one of the 21 panel members is listed has
having a background in ecology. In other words, this is not the mix of
expertise that would be expected on an environmental panel. However, the
legislation on GM crops requires the Commission to seek scientific advice
and, in the absence of any other body, it has been turning to the GMO
Panel. The panel's lack of environmental expertise may well explain the
differences between the Panel and the Member States.

 This is, of course, not the first time the opinions of EFSA have been
criticised (see Mailout 2004). Yet the deliberations of these 21
scientists could have repercussions across 25 countries, so it is
astonishing that this expertise gap has arisen at the heart of the EU
process. The EFSA Opinions serve to highlight the enormous gaps in
knowledge about the effects on European biodiversity of these GM maize
crops. They also raise questions as to whether the current EFSA panel is
really qualified to pass judgement on applications for GM cultivation. At
the very least, the Commission should send these two applications back to
EFSA and the GMO companies involved. Europe has fought hard over the past
years to improve its GMO legislative framework. In order to protect our
biodiversity, it is now important that this framework is used properly.

Unanswered questions

1) Which European Lepidoptera species use maize as a larval food source?
What is their distribution and conservation status?

2) Which European Lepidoptera species use non-crop plants found in/
adjacent to maize fields in Europe as larval food sources? What is their
distribution and conservation status?

3) What is the susceptibility of these Lepidoptera species to the Cry1F
toxin expressed by 1507 maize? Are they more, less or equivalently
susceptible than the North American monarch butterfly?

4) What are the likely exposure rates of identified susceptible species,
either through direct consumption of the GM maize, or consumption of pollen?

5) What importance do the target and non-target species of this GM crop
have for the diet of higher organisms, such as breeding birds?

6) What is the conservation status of higher organisms (such as many bird
species) for which Lepidoptera and their larvae are important dietary
components? Will the introduction of the GM maize have any consequences
in terms of food abundance for these higher organisms?

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

TITLE:  Political climate slows biotech effort
SOURCE: AgriNews Publications, USa, by Tom C. Doran
DATE:   21 Jul 2005

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WASHINGTON -- The European Union has slowed biotechnology efforts in those
countries, according to observations made by U.S. agriculture leaders
during a 10-day trip.

Leaders from the National Corn Growers Association and U.S. Grains
Council traveled to Europe recently to discuss key issues facing
Americans and Europeans regarding biofuels, biotech corn and trade.

NCGA and USGC representatives met with officials from Great Britain,
Belgium, Switzerland and Spain during the mission.

"This trip gave us an opportunity to look at biotechnology and its
acceptance among farmers, feed millers, manufacturers and consumers, and
also at the EU reforms and their impact on farmers and farming," said
USGC President and Chief Executive Officer Ken Hobbie during a recent

"We also were able to look at and understand more completely the EU
biofuels policy and development in its current state and how it may
unfold in the future with the rising level of production in the United

NCGA President Leon Corzine, an Illinois corn grower, said the mission
enabled them to "put the farmers' face in these issues."

"We were able to tell people in Europe what we do and what is important,"
he said.

"We wanted to reassure these folks that this is not just the (U.S.)
administration pushing for biotechnology, but the farmers from the

He added the European scientific community is embracing biotech corn.
However, the European Union governments "are lagging behind," he said.

"Biotechnology is safe and is not posing any health risks to anyone,"
Corzine said.

"It's becoming clear that the EU is using this as a trade barrier. Most
producers want access to the technology in order to help them with
product practices."

NCGA CEORick Tolman added: "The whole scientific community in Europe is
very supportive of biotechnology. But this hasn't changed the political
climate. Recent votes by the European Union and its parliament have made
it very clear this is a trade issue, not a food safety issue."

Darrin Ihnen, NCGA Biotech Working Group chairman and a South Dakota
grain farmer, concurred.

"The benefits and safety of biotechnology was discussed at each stop.
Growers and the scientific community are in favor," he said.

"Votes by the EU parliament were not a food safety issue but a trade
issue. The EU continues to ban planting and growing of biotechnology
crops other than in small acreages."

"There's a lot of interest in Europe on biofuels. They're making some
significant commitments to biofuels," Tolman continued. "They have a goal
of hitting 2 percent of their transportation fuel in biofuels by the end
of 2005. These are EU-commissioned goals. Their goal by 2010 is 5.7
percent, and that's close to our 8-billion-gallon level being looked at
in here."

"Europeans are beginning to understand the importance of fuels and it's
increasing in renewable places, just as we are here," Corzine said.
"There's a great deal of interest in what agriculture can do in order to
meet energy needs in the United States."

Spain grows more bio-products than any other country in Europe with more
than 123,000 acres of biotech crops.

USGC Chairman Paul Williams said a shift in what crops may be planted in
Europe is also a possibility.

"We heard that the EU overall budget is coming under pressure as members
are concerned that a large part of the budget is going to farm
subsidies," he said.

"The council will continue to monitor this. We could see a shift to more
profitable crops due to the reduction in these payments. There could be a
shift to more demand in biodiesels."

Trade issues also were discussed between the United States and European
officials during the mission.

Trade issues were also discussed between the U.S. and European officials
during the mission.

"When we were in Spain, the Spanish importers very clearly said they were
anxious to reopen the market with the United States. They prefer to buy
from the United States," Tolman explained.

"Given that there is biotech corn being grown in Spain. There was a very
strong outcry from the importers in Spain that they would like to be able
to buy in the United States again."

Despite the political quagmire regarding biotechnology, those on the trip
were impressed with the amount of information made available to producers
at the European Commission office in Brussels.

"We don't see as much from the federal level here," Tolman said.

Since the political environment has not moved forward in the area of
biotechnology, Corzine said investments in the technology have left
Europe and shifted to the United States.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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