GENET archive


Misc: Are EU GMO rules starving the poor?

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: EurActiv, Belgium



DATE:   23.02.2007

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A debate organised by Friends of Europe, an EU policy think-tank, explored whether the EU’s strict authorisation procedures on genetically modified food are preventing developing countries from investing in potentially lifesaving technologies.

Related Documents:

LinksDossier: Genetically Modified Organisms

LinksDossier: Life Sciences & Biotechnology


On 20 February 2007, EU environment ministers voted against a Commission proposal to lift a ban imposed by Hungary on MON810 GM maize, which the country claims has harmful effects on European plants and animals.

This is the third time that member states have rejected Commission attempts to lift national bans on the growing of certain GM crops, despite assurances from the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) technical experts that they are safe.

EU ministers also failed to authorise the marketing of a genetically modified carnation - a sign that getting GM products approved in the EU has not become much easier since the EU’s general moratorium - which effectively prevented any GMOs from being marketed in the EU for a five-year period - was lifted in 2003.

Large-scale GMO producers, such as the US, Argentina and Brazil, as well as large biotech companies including Monsanto, Sygenta and Bayer have been pushing for the EU to ease its authorisation procedure and let more GM crops in, resulting in a case at the World Trade Organisation (EurActiv 22/11/06).


A key argument put forward by GM producers is that GM technology could be the key to solving developing countries’ hunger problem. 	 	Does Europe have the right to systematically reject GMOs – even those that fulfil their own safety requirements? 	 	Is Europe, through its stance on GMOs and strict authorisation procedures, stifling the development of a technology crucial to boosting food production and breaking the cycle of malnutrition and starvation in developing countries?

In a debate organised by think-tank Friends of Europe , green NGOs rejected this idea.


Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard said that the EU should not dismiss all GMOs automatically, because the technology could help to solve developing countries’ hunger problem.

”In a global world, the EU’s actions impact on other countries,” she said, explaining that developing countries’ inability to export to the EU discourages them from investing in and producing GMOs.

She believes that the scepticism in Europe about genetic engineering in agriculture stems from the fact that few GMOs ”have brought unquestionable benefits to the European table”. But she underlined the fact that the EU must assess each GMO on its own merits, because crops that can resist diseases and insects can be grown in the third world.

”Like it or not, GMOs are here to stay,” she said, adding that the EU has a special role to play in the debate because it can contribute to ensuring that GMOs are used in a safe and beneficial way for consumers by, for example, investing public research in this field.

Per Pindstrup-Andersen, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), stressed: ”Not a single person has died or become sick because of GM foods.” Nevertheless, he agreed that more studies should be carried out on allergies, etc… ”The EU could have generated a lot of information on GMOs during the moratorium, but it simply sat on its hands,” he complained.

Although he conceded that Europeans have the right to know about the benefits and risks, he criticised the EU’s dogmatism in refusing all GMOs.

”The debate in Europe is very one-sided,” he said, adding: ”If millions of farmers in India and China are willing to break laws to get genetically engineered food, there must be a reason.”

He underlined the importance of understanding the risk-benefit trade-off for developing countries, saying that for many the question is not ”Is genetic engineering the best solution?” but rather ”Is there any other solution?”

For the moment, he said, Europe is standing in the way of developing countries solving their own problems because of its straight-out rejection of GMOs. ”Developing countries are scared of losing their export market to Europe if they start cultivating GM crops,” he said.

But, he agreed that Europe has an important role to play in encouraging the development of biosafety regulations, which are often very weak in developing countries.

Simon Barber, Director of External Relations, EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, said that the public had ”very limited knowledge” about GMOs and about agriculture in general. He accused green groups of spreading unfounded rumours, saying: ”After ten years of GM plants, what negative effects have ever been seen?”

He added: ”Many other plant-breeding technologies are just as scary and do not only produce benefits…To categorically say that the technology should not be used is not ethical.”

Furthermore, he said that imposing a ban on GMOs was not feasible anyway as ”the international trading system simply cannot segregate crops on a 100% basis”.

Fouad Hamdan, director of Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE), believes that it is an exaggeration to say that GMOs can save developing countries, because there are only four types of GM crops: soy, maize, oilseed rape and cotton.

The majority of these crops are destined for feeding animals, not people, in rich countries.

Furthermore, he said, GM crops only benefit large farmers, not small ones who cannot afford expensive patented seeds. And, as for the environment, he said that the use of pesticides has actually increased in Europe following the introduction of GMOs.

He refuted the argument that NGOs were stirring up fear on false pretences, saying: ”I still believe that the benefits of GM food are almost nil…NGOs are working with independent scientific facts, not with biotech-industry funded research.”

Therefore, he concluded: ”The EU can with a lot of confidence tell developing countries to be cautious too. The organic market is the future.”

But, a South African representative said: ”Most Africans don’t have the luxury of choice of what to eat and what not to eat. If genetic engineering can bring some relief to this food insecurity, then let it be. And if it is too risky, then come up with another solution.”

Latest & next steps:

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Industry Federations 

European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio): What are the benefits of GM crops and what can they do?


Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE): European GMO Campaign


                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: NutraIngredients, France

AUTHOR: Anthony Fletcher


DATE:   01.03.2007

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01/03/2007 - When it comes to GM food, the EU needs to wake up from its political inertia, according to biotechnology pressure group EuropaBio.

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. 


                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: China Daily, China

AUTHOR: Xiong Lei


DATE:   01.03.2007

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The European Union (EU) is still debating whether it should embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But a group of European life scientists are determined to welcome China’s GM rice.

At a one-day food meeting, sponsored by the European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLELS) in Brussels last week, the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) task group sent out a clear message that backed biotechnologists in China and other countries working on transgenic agriculture technology to ensure food security across the world.

Yet the controversy over GMOs, particularly the ”over-strict regulatory framework” on GM food as Mark Cantley of Britain put it ”has been disastrous for the progress of agricultural biotechnology” not only in Europe, but also elsewhere.

”It has created difficulties for all the countries seeking to trade with the EU,” said Cantley, former adviser to the Directorate for Life Sciences (Biotechnology, Agriculture and Food) under the Research Directorate-General of the European Commission.

Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Jennifer Thompson echoed his concern. She and her colleagues have come up with several varieties of transgenic corn that show encouraging traits of resisting the virus streak endemic in Africa and could survive even during drought. But they couldn’t get a commercial license for the plant despite its popularity among farmers involved in the field trials.

”It’s all because of EU’s strict rules against GM food, for much of our corn is exported to Europe,” Thompson said. The positive results of safety tests could not convince the local government, she said, because the officials are prone to thinking that ”if Europe doesn’t want it, there must be something wrong with it”.

President of the China Agricultural University Chen Zhangliang informed the meeting that similar misgivings had withheld the commercialization of GM rice on the Chinese mainland. This despite the Ministry of Agriculture’s biosafety committee giving its nod in November 2004 to the production of a GM rice strain that resists leaf blight. Leaf blight is a fungus that attacks rice, beans, cotton, tomato, pepper, plantain, and many other secondary host crops. Perhaps the worse blight attack was on potatoes, Ireland’s staple food, in 1845-46.

Chen said: ”We’re still awaiting the final approval of a commission, comprising (representatives of) seven ministries of the central government Our ministers are hesitating primarily because of EU’s objection to GM plants.”

Speaking on EU’s stance on GMOs at a public debate before the EAGLES meeting, Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard said that rules were imposed only for labeling, shipment and tracing of GM food.

Biologists, however, see the regulations as an obstacle against the spread of transgenic agriculture, particularly hurting small-scale farmers. ”The regulations often prolong the process of approval that only multinationals can afford,” said David McConnell, of Trinity College’s Smurfit Institute of Genetics, University of Dublin, Ireland.

This contradicts the GMO opponents’ allegation that multinationals want to use GM plants to control the world food chain, and the efforts to keep an area GM-free are to prevent their monopoly.

Most biotechnologists back GMOs, with the opposition coming mainly from environmental scientists and organizations, McConnell said. He recalled with bitterness the failure of a GM potato trial in his country: On May 9, 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency of Ireland authorized three-year field trials of a potato strain, genetically engineered to be resistant to blight that caused the 1845-46 famine.

”One million people died of starvation during the famine,” he said. ”Another 1 million emigrated to the US, Australia and elsewhere. As a result, our population has shrank from 8 million in 1844 to 6 million today.” Ireland is perhaps the only country where the population has dropped in the past century and a half. ”And blight threatens our potato production even today.”

The GM potato to go on trial would have transferred a blight-immune gene found in a wild potato strain of Mexico, he said. It’s the only solution to the disease. ”Yet environmentalists blocked the trial.” According to the Irish Times, a nationwide opposition campaign involving more than 100 food and farming groups objected to the trial through the media and written statements. The result: the county council of Meath, where the trial was to be carried out, declared its area a GM-free zone.

Some 172 regions and provinces in the EU have declared themselves GM-free, according to People Earth Decade, a UK-based environmental organization. And McConnell, Cantley and other biotechnologists can’t understand the phobia against GMOs.

”The living world is one large gene-pool of functional and pseudogenes,” said Marc Van Montagu, Emeritus Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Genetics at the University of Gent, Belgium. ”This gene-pool is permanently evolving, which is the base of evolution.”

Well known as an inventor of Agrobacterium tumefaciens (a soil plant pathogenic bacterium) transformation technology, now used worldwide to produce genetically engineered plants, Van Montagu said: ”Nature is one big gene laboratory”, and a ”gene revolution” will help bridge existing grain yield gaps, reduce environmental impact of chemicals and increase the nutritional elements in food.

Despite Van Montagu’s confidence that ”21st century plants will be GM plants,” it seems he and his colleagues have to find a way to balance the environmentalists’ influence both on the public and the politicians.

As Thompson says, even if GM crops could help feed hungry people, ”transgenic food plants cannot be the magic wand to feed the entire developing world”, because efforts have to be made to improve infrastructure, educate people and, more importantly, ”end wars and corruption” in some regions.

GMOs are neither black nor white, said Hedegaard at the public debate organized by the Friends of Europe before the EAGLES meeting. ”We should move away from the more religious way of handling this debate on GMOs.”

GM crops are being grown on more than 1 million hectares around the world, she said, suggesting the EU look at how it could help ensure food security in the developing world and promote a more ethical GMO industry than the one run by US biotech giants.

And till that is done, the fear of losing livelihood and becoming dependent on multinationals for their food supply will keep haunting the small farmers across the world.


                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: Innovations Report, Germany

AUTHOR: alphagalileo, Jens Degett


DATE:   26.02.2007

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On Tuesday the 20 February 2007, Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for the Environment announced at a public discussion organised by Friends of Europe, that she was concerned if Europe has a negative effect on countries in the developing world by imposing its standards on the rest of the world with regard to regulation on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

As a follow-up to this event, plant researchers from the developing world met in Brussels at a meeting organised by European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how European regulation on GM foods influence legislators in the developing world to call for unnecessary tough testing.

Thousands of people die every day in the developing world due to hunger or the use of harmful pesticides in agriculture. No death or any illness throughout the world has ever been connected to the use of GMO. The zero tolerance of GM foods unauthorised in Europe and the labelling of GM foods imported to Europe have a huge influence on legislators and research funding organisations in the developing countries. Even countries which have no export of foods to Europe are afraid of approving or supporting the development of GM foods because of European policy.

Former head of unit at the European Commission, DG Research and head of the unit of biotechnology at the OECD Mark F. Cantley said: ”The global influence of the European policy on GMO has a massive economic and political impact on our trading partners. The economic and political disincentives Europe imposes to the use of more modern and precise technologies and more environmentally friendly agricultural production makes it impossible for the developing world to develop new improved crops. We have painted ourselves into a corner in Europe, from which we shall not easily escape, and from which we have a malign influence on poor countries all over the world”.

Professor Jennifer Thomson from University of Cape Town says: ”Genetically modified maize resistant to the devastating African endemic maize streak virus is in the pipeline for field trials. The problems of regulation are therefore of immediate importance. We are concerned about what we consider the over-regulation prevalent in Europe and question whether this may prevent, or severely delay, the approval of these plants that are desperately needed by poor Africans, many of whom eat maize three times a day.”

Professor Zen Zhangliang President of Beijings Agricultural University said: ”In China we have a long tradition for plant development. Genetic engineering is a better and more precise technology. We have already many Chinese GM products on the market and we will invest massively in agricultural biotechnology in the coming years. It does not seem rational to me that the Europeans want to slow down their agricultural development with superfluous and heavy regulations.”

Professor Marc van Montagu, Department of Molecular Genetics, Ghent University and president of European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) concluded at the meeting with following comment: ”A sustainable agriculture and a less-polluting industry badly need the GM-technology and the transgenic plants developed, worldwide, over the last ten years. Exactly in the same period, well-intentioned regulators in the EU set up an unnecessary and very costly application of the regulatory system. No small or medium enterprise, public research centre, charity or foundation can afford to open a file for approval through the established system. It is a crying injustice towards the developing world, towards nearly 85% of the world population.

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