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PLANTS: New setback for biotech crops in Europe



------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  New setback for biotech crops in Europe
SOURCE: The Financial Times, UK
AUTHOR: Andrew Bounds
URL:
DATE:   13.03.2007
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New setback for biotech crops in Europe

The battle over biotech crops erupted again yesterday after members of
the European parliament blocked a resolution calling for greater use of
the technology.

MEPs voted to delay the draft motion to allow more time for the
agriculture committee to scrutinise it.

The Socialist group, the second-biggest in parliament, said: "It needs
more debate to be better balanced and flexible." The cross-party vote
deals a blow to efforts by the European Commission to boost
biotechnology at a ministerial meeting in June that will set new targets
for its use.

The resolution by Kyösti Virrankovski, a Finnish MEP, called for the
benefits of genetic modification to be recognised and for an end to
discrimination between GM and conventional crops. Of 90m hectares
planted worldwide in 2005, 65,000ha were in the EU.

Industry advocates say the delay in Europe is costing jobs and
investment as the US and Asia plant crops. CBAG, an advisory group to
the Commission of scientists and industry figures, said the Commission
"should calculate the negative effect on employment and competitiveness
of delay". It also called for compensation for patent holders who could
not get national governments to allow planting.

A recent report by an outside consultant for the US Grains Council
showed that farmers gained $5bn extra in 2005 by cutting down on
pesticides and ploughing. The crops are resistant to weeds so ploughing
is reduced, saving on fuel and the release of carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere.

Simon Barber of EuropaBio, the industry lobby group, said: "If they
didn't work, why would 10m farmers plant them?"

However, Friends of the Earth said early benefits of new crops often
evaporated within a few years as new diseases or pests adapted. The
pressure group issued a report questioning the benefits of GM crops.
Hundreds had been approved in the US but only 70 different ones had been
planted.

"If we want to develop a competitive and dynamic economy in Europe, then
it would be wise to quietly shelve the idea of genetically modified
foods and put our political support and tax-payers' money behind green
farming methods," said FoE.

All eyes are on the European Commission's joint research council of
scientists' study, due next month. Early drafts say there is not enough
data to assess but that GM crops accounted for just 0.08 per cent of
gross valued added in the agricultural food industry and 0.02 per cent
of jobs in the EU.

However, that is because few have been planted amid consumer resistance.
Polls show seven in 10 Europeans oppose GM crops, causing governments to
withhold approval and retailers to avoid stocking them.


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