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Green Biotech rEvolutions Newsletter
 
January 2015
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Guest Opinion

Will EU Politicians Listen to Scientists?


Professor Stefan Jansson

 
Dear Readers,
 
Plants provide us with the necessities of life, but our use of them puts our planet under severe pressure. Research and development on plants is therefore crucial to minimize our global footprint. 21 of Europe’s most outstanding plant scientists released on October 30 an open letter to urge politicians to think again about the role of plant research, including the use of genetically modified (GM) plants.
We point out that if Europe is to reach the Horizon 2020 goals of tackling the societal challenge to provide a growing population with food in a sustainable way, they have to act for 1) adequate funding for plant science 2) possibilities to perform field experiments and 3) prompt authorisation of GM plant varieties that have been found safe. If decision makers cannot address these issues, Europe will be unable to lead the global efforts to build a sustainable agricultural system and plant-based bio-economy.
There are at present discussions about the renationalization of GM decisions, perhaps even a revision of the whole legislation. If politicians during these discussions will mainly listen to lobby groups and ignore this message from the scientific community, they cannot in the future say that they take science seriously.

 
Yours sincerely,

 
Professor Stefan Jansson, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, Sweden
Cooordinator of the "Open letter to decision makers in Europe"
European & International News
GM Import Approvals Stalled
12 safe products in Kafkaesque limbo
Since late 2013, the European Commission has failed to formally adopt any authorization decisions for GM crops for import. In an unprecedented move since the de facto moratorium on GM approvals (1998-2004) over which the EU lost a WTO case, the Commission has stopped the authorization process at its last stage for 12 products that have successfully completed all other stages of the authorisation process, including assessments by EFSA, confirming the products’ safety and two votes each by the Member States. All of these crops can be legally grown in the exporting countries, and several already are. The risk of trade disruptions is rapidly growing, and livestock farmers are increasingly worried about their supplies of animal feed, given Europe’s very high import dependency on GM soya beans for feed.  “Any further delays by the EU Commission will result in a suicidal situation for European growth”, said European farmers’ organization COPA-COGECA, together with other affected sectors in a joint statement. The Commission also confirmed its intentions for a GM review in its work programme for 2015, which was published on 16 December 2014:  “As announced in the Political Guidelines, the Commission will review the decision-making process for the authorization of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in order to address the concerns of citizens' and Member States as regards the Commission's current legal obligation to approve the authorisation of GMOs in cases where a clear majority of Member States opposes the proposal." Read more about the stalled import authorisations in EuropaBio position paper and listen to Beat Späth's statement at the 6th European Innovation Summit



Europe Lags Behind on Technology
A snapshot of global GM developments

In November US President Obama and Chinese President Xi met and “reached consensus to intensify science-based agricultural innovation for food security. The United States and China commit to strengthen dialogue to enable the increased use of innovative technologies in agriculture.” This is just one recent example of how all continents - apart from Europe - see GM technology as an important tool for food security. China and Brazil have invested massively in new locally developed GM products. Millions of Chinese and Indian farmers already grow GM crops. The Indian agriculture minister recently stated: "For the sake of food security, to get the poor to live with dignity, we need to evaluate all safe techniques of food production.” Farmers in most countries of the Americas are allowed to grow GM crops, and some of the lesser known GM cultivating countries include the Philippines, Burkina Faso and Sudan. For an overview of GMO development and adoption on the other continents, please consult the following videos from ISAAA (the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications): AfricaAsiaAmericas. A list of all 27 countries growing GM crops in 2013 is available here


                   Credits: CropLife International
Agreement on the "Non Cultivation" Proposal
Towards a license to ban safe GM products
On 17 December the European Parliament's Environment Committee adopted the compromise text agreed between Parliament and Council on the "non-cultivation" proposal. This amendment to the deliberate release Directive, enables EU Member States to formally prohibit the sale of safe products, approved at the European level. “Rejecting modern technologies on non-scientific grounds sets a dangerous precedent for the internal market and sends a negative signal for innovative industries worldwide considering whether or not to invest and operate in Europe”, said Beat Späth from EuropaBio in a press release. Meanwhile, the European maize farmers' organization CEPM remarked in a press release that “any attempt of coexistence is made impossible without setting certain threshold and in particular adventitious presence thresholds for seeds. The political compromise reached by the Institutions shows a de facto re-nationalization of the authorisation of GMOs, which is potentially dangerous for the European project and the competitiveness of its economic operators". The next step in the process will be the EP plenary vote scheduled for 13 January and the formal adoption by Council expected to take place around March. See also this video question by EuropaBio's Secretary General, Nathalie Moll, to the EP rapporteur Frédérique Ries. Read more in the GuardianReutersEuropean Voice, New Scientist, Nature and Science AAAS



Who Said 90% of EU Citizens Reject GMOs?
Perceptions and attitudes are evolving

The claim often heard in Brussels and in the EU capitals, relayed by some, that no one in Europe wants GMOs do not stand anymore: the article "Frankenfine", published by the Economist on 29 November, shows how poll results demonstrate that the public opinion on GMOs in the UK has evolved in the past 10 years. In 2003, some 42% felt that the risks of GM outweighed the benefits, against only 27% by 2011. Among possible reasons are the recession and improved communication by scientists to the general  public. A similar trend was shown in a German poll in August 2013. Read more in The Independent and in "The use and value of polling to determine public opinion on GMOs in Europe", by Nilsy Desaint and Mariana Verbanova (GM Crops and Food, 2013)

"Green Blob Has Claimed Another Victim"
Chief scientific adviser position abolished

Despite various petitions against the abolishment of the Chief Scientific Adviser position, Anne Glover was not reappointed by President Juncker, who instead decided in November to abolish the position. This prompted the Economist to ask "are Europeans becoming more hostile to science and technology?" "The Green Blob (...) has claimed another victim", commented the Spectator, while the New Yorker described it as "European Science's great leap backward". The Telegraph's title was "Jean-Claude Juncker 'sacks' EU scientific adviser over her pro-GM views". German weekly Die Zeit wrote “There is a long tradition of firing advisers when the advice does not please”. Meanwhile MEPs called "on the commission to propose a replacement consultative body for impartial and transparent scientific advice".
From the Member States
 Austria: A Strong Argument for GM
In the blog of the leading daily "Der Standard", Eric Frey wrote “There really should not be a doubt for sober thinking people: GM technology is safe, brings advantages, and could be the decisive instrument to feed a growing world population in times of climate change”. 
 Read more

 Belgium: The Absurd Fear of Genes
In monthly political magazine Knack, Belgian scientists expressed their confusion towards the activists' obstinacy to reject new GM developments, even those that would prevent blindness and death in the developing countries.  Read more

 France: Side Effects of a GM Ban
On 19 November, the GM debate was tabled in the French Senate by Senator Gérard Bailly (Jura region): "Many countries grow GM crops, and GMOs are widely present in our food and animal feed. Yet we ignore the aftermath of a complete ban of GMOs in French agriculture, forfeiting competition with the rest of the world".Read more

 Germany: CDU Backs New Technologies
In spite of the restrictive GMO policy of the current federal government, the Christian Democrats convention called for an objective discussion on how gene technology can help feed a growing population. Read more

  Germany: GM Feed Controversy
Contributing to the debate on the use of GM feed in the poultry sector, the German Farmers Association (DBV) demanded freedom of “feed-choice” for producers on 15 December. Read more on the topic and on the decision of Wiesenhof to go back to GM-free feed in 2015

 Germany: Symposium Challenges 2015
The event, hosted on 5-6 November by the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety in Berlin, focused on "new developments in gene technology”. Read more
 Italy: Scientists Open up to the Public
Over the last months the coverage of the GMOs issue has been more balanced thanks to the increasing contribution of scientists to newspapers and magazines. The movement was initiated last summer by Elena Cattaneo, Member of the Senate and well-known researcher. Read more

Norway: GMOs "Safer than Conventional"
Prof. Gundersen at the University of Oslo refuted the public disbelief towards the safety of GM foods by pointing out that some plants are toxic despite being “natural”.  Read more

 Poland: Revision of the GMO Policy
On 12 December, the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee discussed the draft amendment to the GMO Law which regulates the use of GM microorganisms and GMOs in and outside the labs. Since no final position was taken, the Parliament is expected to vote the initial draft early 2015. Listen to the meeting

  Romania: Biotech Invites Itself
On 10 December, biotech was discussed during the first edition of the Top Agribusiness Gala award ceremony as several prize winners brought up the new nationalization decision on GMO cultivation and expressed their vivid interest in GM crops, especially soybeans.  Read more

 UK: Farmers Need Access, Says Minister
On 7 January, UK Environment Secretary Liz Truss expressed her desire for GM crops to be grown in the UK and to break down barriers to the introduction of this sort of technology in Europe. She called for decisions on issues like pesticides and GM cultivation to be “‘made on science alone”: “[GM crops] have a role to play here in Britain. I think our farmers need access to the technology that will help them work in world markets.” Read more
Science & Miscellaneous
Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of GM Crops
GMOs have large and widespread benefits
A newly published meta-analysis of the agronomic and economic impacts of GM crops has once again concluded that the effects have been "overwhelmingly positive". The review conducted by the University of Göttingen shows that GM technology has reduced pesticide use, increased crop yields and increased farmer profits by 69%. The authors hope that their work "may help to gradually increase public trust in this promising technology".  Read more in the Economist, in German and in the press release

Case Study of Ogura Oilseed Rape in France
Societal benefits of IPRs in agriculture
On 19 November, EuropaBio and CropLife International launched a new report on the socio-economic value of Intellectual Property in agriculture in the context of the 6th edition of the European Innovation Summit. The study focuses on a breakthrough technology developed by the French Research Institute INRA and showcases the benefits of intellectual property rights for farmers and downstream forprocessors and consumers.
 Read the press release and the executive summary

90-Day Feeding Study with MON810 Maize
Grace opens forum for public debates

Grace, the EU research project, invites the public to engage in a scientific discussion on its study assessing the medium- and long-term health impacts of eating GM crops. According to the paper, the scientists found no indication of any toxicologically relevant effects caused by GM MON810 maize animal feed.
No Emergency Measures for MON810
EFSA rejected
Bulgaria documentation
EFSA published a statement on a request from the European Commission related to the emergency measure notified by Bulgaria. The statement indicates that there is ”no new scientific evidence […] that would support the adoption of an emergency measure on the cultivation of maize MON 810”. More information related to existing scientifically untenable and legally questionable bans can be found in this article and on this overview map




Miscellaneous News
  • Commissioner Hogan: "Innovation is vital to farm sector" (Irish Examiner)
  • My GMO Journey: From skeptic to supporter (National Geographic)
  • Open letter by an American citizen to Europe and the world about GMOs (Depleted Cranium)
  • "It is fascinating how long it can take a good idea to crystallise in agriculture" (Farmers Weekly)
  • Rwandan pop stars sing the praises of biofortified beans (Green State TV)
  • The state of GM crops regulation in Canada (study)
  • Ancient Wisdom Boosts Sustainability of Biotech Cotton (study)
  • Weed control changes and genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops in the USA 1996–2012 (report)
  • Debunk Myths About GM Crops (book)
EuropaBio Informs
Stalled Import Approvals
Take a look at our new 2-page document “Time for the Commission to Authorize Safe GMO Imports - Unprecedented delays risk trade disruptions and threaten animal feed supplies” 



How Sustainable is European Agriculture?
Toghether with the German Association for Bioindustries, EuropaBio brings to light the value of a sustainable development in the brochure "More Sustainability: European agriculture policy and plant biotechnology".

How Innovation Drives Agriculture
Take a look at IP52 – a portal with short video clips on intellectual property – and subscribe to the weekly newsletter here. The latest materials introduce Fertilizer and Crop Protection.

EuropaBio Keeps you up to Date
At EuropaBio, we are pleased to take our responsibility in providing factual information about GMOs, in the form of our pocket guide in 8 European languages, fact sheetsreportsfrequently asked questionsnews and videos. Follow us on @EuropaBio.

Approval Process for GMO Imports in the EU
An infographic explains the three main steps that have to be completed before a new GM crop can be authorised for import into the EU.
What People Say About GMO Safety
EuropaBio has put together a set of statements of international, EU and national bodies, such as the WHO, all confirming GMO safety.

Growing Voices Website
Growing Voices is a EuropaBio initiative, a digital forum highlighting the broad-based and growing public constituency interested in GM crops in Europe via video interviews, infographics, podcasts, news articles, quotes and blog posts in several EU languages. One of the latest videos interviews MEP Julie Girling. Subscribe here to receive Growing Voices newsletter every two months and follow us on @GrowingVoicesEU.


External Information Sources

Selection For Your Agenda

Contacts

EuropaBio is the European Association for Bioindustries. Our Secretary General is Nathalie Moll. The Green Biotechnology Team are Beat Späth, Delphine Carron, Katarzyna Jasik and Violeta Georgieva. For more information and our contact details, please check http://www.europabio.org/.
Copyright © 2015 EuropaBio, All rights reserved.

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