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Green Biotech rEvolutions Newsletter
 
May 2015
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Guest Opinion

No logic in European Commission's GMO proposal


Ricardo Serra, COPA Vice-President

Dear Readers,
 
The European Commission’s proposal to “nationalise” imports of GMOs represents a clear threat to Member States’ competitiveness inside the EU. There is absolutely no logic in allowing Member States to restrict or prohibit the trade of a genetically modified event, which has been safety-assessed by the European Food Safety Authority. 
As farmer and COPA (European Farmers) Vice-President I am convinced that the European Commission should better implement the legislation in place instead of proposing a new “banning” procedure.
The GMO cultivation directive 2015/412 states that “Issues related to the placing on the market and the import of GMOs should remain regulated at Union level to preserve the internal market”. Therefore any attempt to nationalise imports will be in contradiction with the main principles of the EU. The Commission has committed itself to simplify the European legislation. Unfortunately the new GMO proposal will have the opposite effect: legal chaos, a negative impact on jobs and growth and an endless philosophical debate that will not benefit anyone.
We need a transparent and global legislation on GMO trade and cultivation. This legislation must be the same worldwide and should be based on science and not on short term political criteria. This is the best approach to avoid market distortions and achieve fair competition. It is high time to allow science to speak up.


Yours sincerely,

Ricardo Serra, COPA (European Farmers) Vice-President

 
Special: Nationalisation of Imports Proposal
Patchwork Europe
What did the Commission propose?

On 22 April, the EU Commission proposed to allow Member States to ban the “use” of individual GMO approved at EU level for food and feed. The proposal is heavily criticised from all sides (see next article) and affects the trade of GMO commodities used as feed and food ingredients. It does not affect cultivation of GMOs in the EU. Although, the proposal provides little explanation as to the criteria that could be called upon to impose such bans, it specifies that a ban cannot be based on scientific grounds and must comply with European and international law. For more information, see EuropaBio’s Q&A document and the Commission’s website here and here. Meanwhile, Agriculture ministers are expected to discuss the issue on June 16, and the European Parliament’s Environment Committee is set to prepare an opinion.

Nobody Asked For It, Nobody Wants It
Political reactions in the EU
Most political, media and NGO commentators have also publicly rejected the proposal. Government representatives from France and Germany have been among the critics, together with members of the European Parliament such as EPP MEPs Peter LieseChristopher FjellnerFrançoise Grossetête, S&D MEPs Pervenche Berès and Paul Brannen, and several Green MEPs. Julie Girling (ECR, UK) said: “It is a dark day when the EU's executive is happy to sit by and watch its own basic freedoms, trade commitments, farmers and consumers suffer while ignoring the scientific advice that taxpayers themselves are paying for. It shows the Commission sadly lacks the backbone to stand up to a few anti-GM Member States. The proposal will ride roughshod over the basic principles of free movement of goods within the Single Market. It is submission dressed up as subsidiarity.” Politicians and farmer groups from many Member States (e.g. AUDEFRIT) joined the criticism. According to some media, the proposal even met with fierce opposition within the Commission itself, (Liberation). This Financial Times article sums it up with: “The EU makes a mess of bioengineered food

Threat to TTIP and Food Security
Reactions from the U.S.

Strong criticism of the proposal was voiced by Mike Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative as well as by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who was quoted the Financial Times“The EU’s decision potentially […] creates a serious obstacle to meeting the challenge of global food security,” “The problem is you are basically constraining the market in order to avoid having consumer choice”“It creates serious issues as to whether we will even get a TTIP”.
Threat to the Internal Market
Reactions from the economic chain

The EU food and feed chain (including farmers and the food industry) has strongly rejected the Commission’s proposal and continues to ask the Commission to withdraw it. Copa-Cogeca’s (EU Farmers) Secretary General Pekka Pesonen warned: “It will seriously threaten the Internal Market for food and feed products, causing substantial job losses and lower investment in the agri-food chain in “opt-out” countries. This would cause serious distortions of competition for all EU agri-food chain partners”. Jeff Rowe, Chairman of EuropaBio’s Agri-Food Council warned“This proposal would limit the choice for livestock farmers and threaten their livelihoods. It would also set the alarm off for any innovative industry subject to an EU approval process in Europe”.




EuropaBio’s Event
Will Member States take their responsibility?

The first event on the proposal was held by EuropaBio on 4 May. Contributors included Arūnas Vinčiūnas (Head of Commissioner Andriukaitis’ Cabinet), farmers from Brazil and the U.S., representatives from the mission of Argentina, the European farmers, feed industry and grain traders. GMO critics had been invited to join the panels but declined to participate. Issues debated included how Member States that vote against EFSA’s positive opinions and still import GMOs would act under the new proposal; the undefined concept of "use", bringing even more uncertainty to large parts of the food and feed chain; the lack of  an impact assessment, despite previous Commission-funded studies had emphasised the EU's dependency on GMO imports and the risks to the economy of disrupting imports; as well as the possibility for the Commission to start infringement procedures against Member States which impose illegal bans.


European & International News
Scaremongering Exposed
Questionable NGO tactics

The front-page of The Independent recently featured an article on an anti-GM food campaign being run by ActionAid, which spread “groundless fears over GM” in parts of Africa. ActionAid immediately required its Ugandan partners to interrupt any such communication and published the following on its website “it should not have been involved in the health debate around GM, and will not be in future”. Incidentally there were 3 replies to their article – all supportive of the move. However, Greenpeace reacted quite differently when confronted with its stance on the science around GMO safety. EU Observer interviewed Greenpeace and the conclusion is captured in the headline: “Did green groups learn anti-GMO tactics from climate sceptics?” Activists and decision makers who continue to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that GMOs are as safe as conventional crops should explain why they know better than the legitimate representative institutions such as European Academies of Science. The key quotes proving the scientific consensus can be found here and here


10 New GMOs Approved For Import
Unprecedented delays

This month, after an 18 month standstill, the European Commission authorized the import of 10 new biotech crops for import (and extended 7 existing approvals), a move welcomed by EuropaBio. However, these approvals took 6 ½ years on average (see breakdown of timelines here). During the political process leading to the approvals, legally prescribed timelines were routinely exceeded. There are still over 40 additional applications for biotech imports pending in the system and EuropaBio has called on the Commission to continue granting Europe’s livestock farmers freedom of choice by processing the applications without delay. The Commission clarified its own obligations:  “If the result of the vote in the Appeal Committee is “No opinion”, the Commission is required by the GMO legal framework and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights to adopt a decision on the application so, in practice, has little choice but to give the authorization.” To discover how much GM the EU imports and how your Member State votes: see section “EuropaBio informs” below. 



 
President Juncker’s Guidelines Set Straight
More countries usually in favour than against

In its communication around the nationalisation of imports proposal, the Commission corrected the following statement included in President Juncker's political guidelines (which motivated the proposal): “To me, it is simply not right that under the current rules, the Commission is legally forced to authorise new organisms for import and processing even though a clear majority of Member States is against.” To do so, the Commission provided a breakdown of Member States’ voting behavior and confirmed“As regards GM food and feed, the voting patterns show that there are generally more Member States supporting the draft decision than opposing it.”


GM Non-Cultivation
More illegal bans?

In modern democracies, banning products is legally difficult when the products are proven safe, as it is the case with EU approved GMOs. Unlike the Commission's new proposal on import bans, the recently adopted directive to enable Member States to ban GMO cultivation in all or part of their territory contains a list of possible grounds to justify such bans. The legal services of the EU institutions raised serious concerns about these grounds during the legislative process (Council, Parliament, and Commission here and here), and ministries’ officials from several countries recently described some of the challenges posed by the criteria at a conference hosted by the Hungarian government (EuropaBio presentation here). See also a recent interview with a legal expert in Reuters (in German). The status of the existing scientifically untenable and legally questionable national “safeguard clause” bans can be found here

Golden Rice Awarded
Patents for Humanity

Last month, the Golden Rice project received the prestigious Patents for Humanity Award 2015 from the White House, which recognizes patent owners and licensees working to improve global health and living standards in less developed parts of the world. The Independent reported that the intellectual property behind the Golden Rice research has been made available free of charge to developing countries. The GM rice in question is a bio-fortified crop that offers a long-term sustainable solution to vitamin A deficiency, which kills between 2 and 3 million children a year. Anti-GMO campaigner Vandana Shiva and Professor Hans-Jörg Jacobsen (Leibniz University Hanover) discussed the issue on BBC Radio. Listen to the debate (min 45:06-53:00)
Did you know that GMOs are already part of our daily lives? Trade Talk brings the latest news and views on GM crop imports from around Europe #GMtrade
From the Member States
Belgium: Why Environmental NGOs Should Let Go of the GMO File
Environmentalist and former anti-GMO activist Stijn Bruers published a blogpost explaining why he changed his mind on GMOs. After carefully analyzing all available data and studies, he acknowledged the scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs and concluded that there are no reasons to be opposed to GMOs given they are sometimes even better than their conventional counterparts.  


Bulgaria: Humans Have Been Modifying Plants for Over 10,000 Years
The popular Bulgarian online media outlet Webcafé seems to have changed their narrative on GMOs: “Mankind has gone the very long path from a horribly slow and cautious process of selection and reproduction of useful seed types and this process must not be disrupted by bias or lack of knowledge”. Read more here.


France: Non-GMO Fields Destroyed By Anti-GMO Activists
In France last month, anti-GMO activists destroyed field trials of herbicide-resistant rapeseed developed through new breeding techniques. The French Association of Plant Biotechnology (AFBV) condemned the action and called on the public authorities to take a clear and science-based stance on different breeding techniques. This follows President Hollande’s call for public research on GMOs to be continued despite pressure.


Germany: Scientists Oppose GMO Ban
"A permanent ban on GMO cultivation in Germany would be a death sentence for plant biotech research in Germany", stated the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, which strongly endorses GM crops. Meanwhile, Gerhard Flachowsky, a leading German animal nutrition researcher, confirmed that the inclusion of GM plants in feed is safe for animal and human health. Scientists have called for a new product rather than process-based risk assessment. Read more here, here and here.


Germany: Protein Gap and Feed Imports
Europe does not produce enough protein-rich feed and depends strongly on imports of soya beans – mostly GM soya beans. Some countries such as Austria or Germany plan to strengthen domestic cultivation of protein plants which may prove arduous. Read more here.



Germany: GMO Cultivation Opt-Out on National Level
The debate over opt-outs from GMO cultivation on national or federal level in German ended when Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt, who had originally considered federal state opt-outs legally more secure, is preparing a regulation for national opt-out to be issued within six months. Read more here
Italy: No more fake news on GMOs
The Italian newspaper Il Foglio listed a number of hoax stories on GMOs repeatedly raised by anti-GMO activists. Fake stories like ‘GMOs promote baldness’, ‘GM strawberry with fish gene’ or ‘famer suicides in India linked to GM Cotton royalties’ are just some of the revealing examples of the demagogy on GMOs.

Poland: Over-Precaution
The former Chairman of the Polish Academy of Science Professor Michał Kleiber explains in an interview that the root of all misunderstanding around GMOs in Poland comes from the over-application of the precautionary principle. 

Portugal: A Brazilian Approach to GMO
In an interview in Economico do Sapo, the Brazilian Ambassador to Portugal, Mario Vilalva, explains the benefits of GM crops, their relevance for farmers, feed and food producers and environment, and urges the EU and Portugal to follow the Brazilian approach to biotechnology. 


Romania: The Romanian Paradox
In an interview Professor Petruta Cornea, President of the Bio-safety Commission of the Romanian Ministry of Environment points to the paradoxical status of Romania when it comes to GMOs: “Our country is the only European country where, before 2006, GMO soya beans were grown. After the EU accession this crop was out of the field, however it is now being imported from other parts of the world”.


Romania: Information Makes You Stronger
Biotech company representatives began touring the main Romanian Ag Universities – Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, Timisoara for a series of conferences and student interactions. For the first two Universities, more than 100 students participated in an animated debate about biotechnologies, modern breeding techniques, gene therapies, etc. 



 

Switzerland: Field Trials with Cisgenic Potatoes
Potatoes carrying resistance genes from wild relatives against the devastating late blight disease have been planted near Zurich, after receiving the official trial permit. The plants, developed at Wageningen University, are being tested for their resistance properties under Swiss agricultural conditions. 


Switzerland: New GM information site
A new website „Green Gene Technology” was launched as a part of the natural sciences Switzerland portal. It will add to the existing monthly newsletter “InterNutrition POINT”, (mainly) in German and French. 
Science & Miscellaneous
We Are All Genetically Modified by Nature
Humans and sweet potatoes have foreign genes

The discovery that sweet potato contains DNA from an agrobacterium was published recently in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Because of the presence of this "foreign" DNA, sweet potato can be seen as a "natural GMO." The scientists highlight that this crop has been eaten for millennia without any negative impact on health. This news comes only weeks after the Economist reported that humans also have “foreign DNA”: the article “Genetically modified people” shows how these findings put into question one of the fundamental credos of anti-GM activists, namely that “horizontal gene transfer is unnatural”. Read more here and here

GM Benefits Farmers & Planet
Less land & CO2, wealthier farmers 

A new study “GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2013” (Brookes & Barfoot) published on 7 May 2015 shows that in 2013, GM crops increased productivity by over 400 million tons, without which an extra land equivalent to one third of the EU’s cereal acreage would have been needed to feed the world. Farmers had net economic benefits of over $20 billion in 2013 from adopting GM technology and a return of $4 on every extra dollar invested in the technology – particularly important for the majority of GM farmers who are smallholders in developing countries. Fewer tractor trips and better soil carbon storage saved greenhouse gases equal to removing 12.4 million cars from the road for one year. Read more here
 
Brazil Approves Biotech Eucalyptus Tree
20% increase in yield

Brazil’s National Technical Commission on Biosafety approved the commercial use of the first high-yield biotech eucalyptus tree. This biotech tree yields 20% more than it conventional counterpart and is a valuable tool to grow more trees on less land. Read more here and here.
The Intuitive Appeal of GMO Opposition
Psychological analysis

A group of researchers-philosophers and biologists- have analysed the discrepancy between public opinion and scientific evidence when it comes to GMOs. The paper argues that intuitive expectations form the basis for misinterpretations of GMOs. The study also highlights the consequences this has had on science education and communication. Read more here.

Biotech Crops Could Prevent Birth Defects
The potential of bio-fortified rice

Researchers at the of Ghent University in Belgium and Liaoning Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China have concluded that the use of rice bio-fortified with folate could  reduce Disability-Adjusted Life Years by up to 10%. DALY is a WHO standard metric to account for premature mortality and mortality for those with health problems. Read more here and here.

Healthier Wine
No hang-overs as an additional bonus

Researchers from the University of Illinois have published a study in which genetically engineered yeast was used to produce wine with improved health qualities. The healthy wine contains increased levels of the cholesterol-reducing resveratrol and reduced amounts of toxic by-products that can cause hangovers. Read more here. 

Miscellaneous
  • The case for engineering our food (TEDTalks video)
  • A policymaker’s guide to the GMO controversies (ITIF)
  • A tale of two precautions: GMOs & climate change (The Risk-Monger blog)
  • Aasif Mandvi investigates into the impacts of GMO potato (The Daily Show video)
  • All our plants are modified – discover 9,000 years of breeding (Vox infographics)
  • The Flemish life sciences research institute’s annual report 2014 (VIB)
EuropaBio Informs
Facts Not Fiction about GMOs
“It’s often said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts” writes Beat Späth, EuropaBio’s director for green biotech Europe. Indeed, most of us have an opinion about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but is it based on facts or hear-say? Take a look at some surprising facts and read the interview with Nathalie Moll, Secretary General at EuropaBio.

 
Discover YOUR Country’s GM Approach
If you want to know how much GM soy your EU Member State imports per person, and whether your country votes in favour or against the science, check out our new infographic.

EU Benefits From GM Trade
Did you know that the EU is one of the biggest importers of genetically modified commodities in the world? This infographic shows we import over 33 million tonnes of GM commodities per year, which is equivalent to the combined weight of all EU citizens. 

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 guidefactsheetsreports, frequently asked questionsnews and videos. Follow us on @EuropaBio.
EuropaBio's Trade Talk Blog
Check out Trade Talk, a new blog section on the Growing Voices website, an online platform aiming to highlight the growing interest in genetically modified crops in the EU. The blog is dedicated to the “News and views on GM crop imports from around Europe”. Join the debate on @GrowingVoicesEU using #GMtrade!

Import Approval Delays
Discover how long the recently approved GM products for import were pending in the system (over 6 years on average) and why the Commission should continue to grant EU livestock farmers choice


The Journey of Mr Maize to the EU
Did you know that GMOs are already part of your daily life? The EU benefits hugely from GM trade but the regulatory system is not always working as it should. Discover the video of Mr Maize – a biotech maize from Brazil, who embarks on a journey to the EU.

External Information Sources
  • Check on CropLife International’s online database Biotradestatus which GMOs are authorised where.
  • Ask all your questions about GMOs on GMO Answers.

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, Katarzyna Jasik, Pedro Narro, Delphine Carron  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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