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Europe's Bad Harvest

The EU's refusal to lift its bans on scientifically-approved GM crops hurts both itself and the rest of the world

Henry Miller and Gregory Conko

European Union officials continue to refuse to let the World Trade Organisation save them from themselves. In spite of a 2005 WTO ruling that some European countries were breaking international trade rules by prohibiting the import of gene-spliced, or genetically modified (GM), crops and foods, Europe remains recalcitrant, unrepentant - and on the verge of slaughtering its own livestock industry.

Last week, the European Commission delayed a decision on whether to permit European farmers to grow three gene-spliced crops, saying that additional scientific analysis is needed before three new crops can be approved. But this rationale is hardly credible, because the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already twice analysed the crops - a potato that produces extra starch (intended for industrial uses and animal feed), and two maize varieties modified for enhanced pesticidal properties - and found that they pose no danger to public health.

Europe's continued intransigence on gene-spliced crops threatens to starve its own livestock industry. European shortages of grain for animal feed and soaring prices - caused by both the rejection of gene-spliced grains and the diversion of corn to the production of ethanol for fuel - are causing panic among livestock producers. Pig and poultry farmers have been forced to reduce their output, while consumer consumption is down because of higher prices.

Although the WTO bluntly scolded the EU for imposing a moratorium on gene-spliced crop approvals from 1998 to 2004, that finding was a foregone conclusion. European politicians, including then-EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström, had acknowledged that the moratorium was "an illegal, illogical and otherwise arbitrary line in the sand."

The WTO also made clear that national bans on certain gene-spliced foods in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg were blatant violations both of those countries' treaty obligations and EU rules, but the European Commission has been impotent in persuading its rogue members to conform to EU policies. Not only are most of those national bans still in place, but last October, French President Nicolas Sarkozy implemented a new moratorium on the commercial cultivation of gene-spliced corn.

The most important victory for the United States and its partners was the WTO's judgment that the European Commission failed to abide by its own regulations by "undue delaying" of approvals for 25 gene-spliced food products. The culprit here was (and is) the European Commission's highly politicized, sclerotic, two-stage approval process: Each application first must be cleared for marketing by various scientific panels, and then voted on by politicians, who routinely contravene the scientific decisions.

As the WTO pointed out, the relevant EC scientific committees had recommended approval of all 25 product applications. But, for transparently political reasons rather than concerns about consumer health or environmental protection, EU politicians repeatedly refused to sign off on the final approvals.

It is important to recall that these are superior products made with state-of-the art technology that is both more precise and predictable than other techniques for the genetic improvement of plants. The safety and importance of gene-splicing technology have been endorsed by dozens of scientific bodies around the world, including the French Academies of Science and Medicine, the UK's Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association and many others.

The good news is that the WTO chastised the EU for failing to follow its own regulatory rules. The bad news is the absence from the panel report of any condemnation of those rules themselves, in spite of the fact that they are blatantly unscientific and impose gratuitous regulation and are clear violations of the trade treaties enforced by the WTO. Under the various WTO-enforced treaties, member countries are free to enact any level of environmental or health regulations they choose - as long as (1) every such regulation is based on the results of a risk analysis showing that some legitimate risk exists, and (2) the degree of regulation is proportional to that risk.

Every risk analysis performed by countless scientific bodies worldwide has shown that the splicing of new genes into plants, per se, introduces no incremental risks. A 2001 European Commission report summarising the conclusions of 81 different EU-funded research projects spanning 15 years concluded that, because gene-spliced plants and foods are made with highly precise and predictable techniques, they are at least as safe as and often safer than their conventional counterparts. In 2003, then-EU commissioner for health and consumer affairs David Byrne acknowledged that the official European Commission position was that currently marketed gene-spliced crop varieties posed no greater food safety or environmental threat than the corresponding conventional food varieties.

None of this has translated into more enlightened decisions on either policy or individual products, however (although over the past few years the EU has approved a small, token number of gene-spliced product applications in order to pretend that its regulatory apparatus is now in compliance with the WTO ruling). By requiring extraordinary testing procedures for an admittedly safer technology, the EU's approach is not only disproportionate but manifests an inverse relationship between the degree of risk and amount of regulatory scrutiny. This is both absurd and illegal, but at a background briefing in February 2006, an unnamed "EU official" noted that it "is nevertheless clear, beyond any doubt, that the EU will not have to modify its [biotechnology] legislation and authorisation procedures."

Because uncertainty is anathema to investment in costly R&D, few companies are likely to risk the tens of millions of dollars in regulatory costs needed to pursue each new ag-biotech product in Europe. Even worse, the developing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, which once anticipated that agricultural and food biotechnology could provide them a brighter and more self-sufficient future, will continue to be shut out of the important European market by policymakers' callous obstructions.

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The latest issue of Plant Physiology (July 2008; Volume 147, Issue 3) has a special section on next generation of biotech crops especially on nutritional improvement.  These papers can
be downloaded free!

Influence of Transgenosis on the Plant-Insect- Relationships, in Particular on Chemically       Mediated Interactions

Effect of Transgenes Conferring Enhanced Pathogen Resistance on the Interaction with Symbiotic        Fungi in Rice

Impact on the Soil Ecosystem through Natural and Genetically Engineered Organisms:
      Effects, Methods and Definition of Damage as Contribution to Risk Assessment

The Decomposition of Bt-Corn on the Fields and its Impact on Earthworms and on other        Macroorganisms in the Soil

Environmental Post-market Monitoring of Bt-maize:
       Approaches to Detect Potential Effects on Butterflies and Natural Enemies

Columns by Dan Gardner

Against the Grains: 'The Terminator Hoax '

Decisions taken in the 84th Meeting of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee

Brazilian Health Biotech: Fostering Crosstalk Between Public and Private Sectors

Biotechnology Related Article Appeared on 'Samyukta Karnataka' ( Regional Language )
June 12, 2008.

Nothing Left to the Imagination

The Politics of GM Food
Kirit S Javali

Hi-tech seed factories: Sowing Seeds of Success

"Indian Seed Industry is Well Placed to Serve Both Domestic and International Markets"
Dr MK Sharma,
Managing Director,
Mahyco Monsanto

"If we Facilitate Seed Industry, we Facilitate Growth in Agriculture"
Dr Govind Garg,
Krishidhan Seeds

Metagenomics: Window to the Microbial Universe

Few Checks to Prevent Entry of GM Food

Gene Campaign Criticises India’s ‘Silence’ at Global Bio-Safety Meet

An Enforceable International Compact for Infectious Diseases

"Indian Science in Genomics has been Able to Place Itself on the Global Map"

Indian Gene Decoded

The Development of RNAi as a Therapeutic Strategy

FAO E-Conference on Biotechnologies and Water Scarcity

Genetic Landscape

Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture

RH Nature Reviews Genetics 08- Opposition to Transgenic Technologies

Germany: Discussion Paper of German Ag-Industry about EU Biotech Policy Implications

Bt maize performance in Spain

Arsenic speciation varies with type of rice

Why I Am Bothered by Neo-Colonialist NGOs

China experts identify gene for yield, height in rice

The French government has called for a debate on the review of the EU
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has also repeatedly criticised the EU for "undue delays" in the authorisation of GMOs. See the latest WTO ruling:

The legal bans are in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece.

EU delays decision on approving more GM crops

UCR Geneticist Plays Scientific Advisor to Movie about “Love, Adventure and ... Genetically Modified Rice”

Gujrat worst-hit by illegal Bt cotton production

Farmers seek ban on GM crops

Call for policing
Ijaz Ahmed Rao discusses the virtues of a bio-safety framework for genetically modified crops, now that they have become farmers’ favourite

Stem cells: The 3-billion-dollar question

Genes as the solution

Food crisis spurs research spending

Global Food Crisis / UN / Bilingual Transcript of Statements by Secretary-General, Heads of Concerned Agencies, and Response to Questions at Press Conference on Global Food CrisisGM Crops, A World View

Mass Protests against GM Crops in IndiaInterference at the EPA

Open letter to Robert B. Zoellick, President, World BankNew BT variety may push short staple cotton output.

The future of agricultural biotechnology: Creative, destruction, adoption, or irrelevance? ICABR Conference 2008

Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops.

Prof. Kameswara Rao and Dr. T.M. Manjunath's Participation in 2008 Biotech Activities

Scrutinizing Industry-Funded Science: The Crusade Against Conflicts of Interest

LEADER: Nurturing nanotech

Center for Indigenous Knowledge for Agriculture and Rural Development

Scientists find potential schistosomiasis treatment

Islamic conference boosts S&T with new resolutions

Mexico publishes GM approval guidelines

Uganda 'close to stamping out Hib meningitis'

New method 'prevents spread of GM plants'

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Brazil creates US$18 million fund for young scientists

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