'Failing to support GM crops single most damaging element for growth'

The European Association for Bio-Industries (EuropaBio) says the decision by 16 EU nations to opt out of GMO crop cultivation has taken away the right of farmers to choose

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Monday 12 October 2015

How have biotechnology companies reacted to this decision of 16 EU countries and four other regions?

We deeply regret that some EU countries have decided to make use of the new "licence to ban" on the cultivation of safe and approved GMO crops on their territories. European farmers, many of whom may have been interested in using GM technology in these territories, have officially lost their freedom to choose. Member States’ demands and outcomes (companies’ replies) can be found here.

(Also read the counterview of the European Commission'New GMO directive provides necessary legal framework to complex issue')

How will this affect investment and innovation by biotechnology multinationals in the region?

The new EU legislation allowing for these bans is a stop sign for agricultural innovation and sends a negative signal to all innovative industries considering investing in Europe. Much of the research has already been driven out of Europe. One indicator is the number of GM field trials, which have fallen from 109 in 2009 to 10 in 2014. Most research that remains in Europe in this field is focused on products for farmers outside the EU. There is still some laudable public GM research going on in parts of Europe, but even public researchers and public institutions face protests and illegal destructions of their field trials and the cost of protecting the fields from such illegal acts of vandalism is extremely high. In 2014, radical activists invaded the European Food Safety Authority with smoke bombs. German Nobel Prize laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard said in March 2015 that most of the plant biotech students in Germany will have to emigrate to find jobs.

What according to you will be the next course of action for biotechnology multinationals in the region?

Europe lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to GM crop cultivation, to the detriment of European farmers and consumers. Due to the de facto and illegal moratorium on approvals of GMOs for cultivation, the majority of GM crops for cultivation have been withdrawn by the applicant companies after more than 10 years of waiting in the dysfunctional system.

Whilst there is little GM cultivation in the EU, the EU is a major importer of GM commodities from other parts of the world: we pay with GM cotton bank notes and wear GM cotton clothes, and we heavily rely on GM commodities to feed our farm animals. Each year, the EU imports over 33 million tonnes of genetically modified soya beans, totalling more than 60 kg for each of its 500 million citizens per year (for more information about imports per EU countries, please click here). This would tend to indicate that GM commodities have had and continue to have an important place in European agriculture.

Had your association expected a reaction of this scale in the region?

The biotechnology industry has been firmly and publicly opposed to the idea of opt-out clauses since the beginning because it is a very negative precedent of "politics over science" and represents one of the biggest investment disincentives for high-tech sectors. Moreover, it is very easy for some of the governments to ban GM cultivation where there are currently no GM crops suitable for their farmers. It will be interesting to see whether their choice will change when GM crops that would be adapted to their countries’ needs become available and they find their farmers are at a competitive disadvantage to farmers that are able to access the technology in other parts of Europe or of the world.

Does the ban (as per the new EU law) apply only to GM maize which is MON810 GM? Are there any other varieties of GM maize or other GM crops affected by this ban?

Member States had the possibility to opt out from all authorisations granted and/or applications submitted before April 2, 2015. This includes the only GM crop currently cultivated in the EU—MON 810—and seven other GM products pending in the system for authorisation. The scoping-out demands of each Member State can be found here.

How do you think this will impact agricultural and biotechnology multinationals across the world planning to introduce GM crops? For example, the battle to promote genetically modified (GM) crops has gained momentum in South Asia and Southeast Asia. In Kenya, scientists are lobbying for approval to commercialise a genetically modified maize variety. 

Biotech crops are the fastest adopted crop technology in the world. In 2014, global biotech crop hectarage continued to grow for the 19th consecutive year of commercialisation. According to International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA)'s figures, in 2014, 18 million farmers planted 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops in 28 countries, up from 175.2 million hectares in 27 countries in 2013. In other words there are more farmers cultivating GMOs in the world than there are farmers in all of Europe (circa 12 million), and GMOs grow on an area much larger than the EU’s entire arable land (circa 104 million hectares). What is very important to note is that 90 per cent of these 18 million farmers were small resource-poor farmers, and for the third consecutive year, developing countries planted more biotech crops than industrial countries. More and more farmers planting more and more GM crops worldwide each year is a clear indication that this technology works and that, where allowed, farmers choose to grow GM crops.

Any other comment that you would like to share with us?

EuropaBio firmly believes that failing to support the EU’s own best science is the single most damaging element for growth, innovation, investment as well as consumer confidence and safety. By banning the cultivation of safety-assessed GM crops, the Member States are officially denying their farmers the right to choose. Trillions of GM meals have been eaten over 19 years and in 2014, 18 million farmers planted biotech crops on 13 per cent of the world’s arable land. Meanwhile, half of Europe chooses to turn the continent into a museum of agriculture without even asking its farmers.

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