Green Biotech rEvolutions Newsletter
September 2015
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New Plan: Legal Certainty 

Nathalie Moll, EuropaBio Secretary General
Dear Readers,
The Commission has told MEPs and ministers that it has no ‘plan B’ if the proposal to enable national bans on the ‘use’ of GMOs is rejected. It is the whole food and feed chain’s hope that this means that should the proposal be rejected, the institutions will start to abide to existing legislation and approve safe products according to legislative timelines. This would reinstate the much needed legal certainty for all operators and align GMO approvals with the timely approvals of all other regulated products.
It is very concerning to see that a number of Member States continue to regularly vote against EFSA’s positive opinions on GMO approvals given that this leads to confusion in the general public as to the safety of products and the reliability of the European approval system to ensure that safety. An effort should be made to disseminate information about the existence of the approval process for GMOs and what it means in terms of product safety, to respond to any confusion and push back against unfounded scaremongering.
The biotech industry welcomed the authorisation of 17 GM products for imports in April. Attention must now turn to the over 40 additional GMO applications for import still pending in the system, among which 5 have already received a positive EFSA opinion.
In addition to this, now would be a good time for the Commission to finally put forth a proposal that has been requested by Member States since 2006 i.e. solutions for testing and sampling of traces of GMOs in seeds, as well as in food, which would provide the legal certainty for the whole food chain that has been lacking in these areas. 
Yours sincerely,
 Nathalie Moll, EuropaBio Secretary General
Quotes of the Month
Of course we have a choice: produce meat or import it – it’s a difficult choice
Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner for Health & Food Safety, speaking about the GMO imports use bans, 13 July 2015

With biotechnology, the science says the risks of action are small, while the risks of inaction are enormous
 Stephen Tindale, former Greenpeace UK director, 29 July 2015
European & International News
Nationalisation of GM Imports
Farm Ministers Slam Proposal
On 13 July, agriculture ministers from most EU Member States questioned the Commission proposal, which would enable national bans on the ‘use’ of safe EU-approved GMOs. They criticised the undefined concept of ‘use’ of a GMO, the lack of an impact assessment, and feared for the single market and the EU’s international trade commitments. For example, UK Minister of State for Farming, George Eustice, urged the Commission “to assess the impact of potential bans on EU exports for non-safety reasons by third countries, as the proposal would set a precedent for this”. Commenting on possible alternative approaches, a number of ministers urged the Commission to drop its proposal and instead implement better the existing system, which “came about in a democratic fashion”, as Dutch minister Dijksma recalled. Irish minister Coveney said: “The main difficulty from an Irish perspective is the length of time taken to finalise the approval and authorisation process.” Similarly UK minister Eustice urged “the Commission to commit to following the timelines and processes set out in the current legislation”. This Council debate followed first debates in the European Parliament. The agriculture committee has called for rejection of the proposal, while the environment committee is working towards it. Watch the Council public video debate on GMOs. For additional information, watch this ViEUws video debate featuring MEP La Via, Deputy Director General Miko from the Commission and the president of the animal feed industry association FEFAC.

Ending GM Soy Imports?
Impacts of potential national bans

Following the Commission’s failure to provide an impact assessment on its “licence to ban GM imports“ proposal, several studies have been produced concerning the soya bean supply in Spain, Romania, Germany and Italy. The EU is highly dependent on GM soy imported from third countries and the possibility of restricting or prohibiting the imports may have an enormous impact on national economies. It is estimated for example that in Romania replacing GM soy would negatively affect the poultry (€17m) and pork (€28m) sectors. If a distortion in trade occurred, production costs would increase rapidly, costing the Italian economy €1.75bn in 2015-2016 and reducing Germany’s welfare by $10.1bn. In Spain, importing GM soya has led to savings of around €55bn in 2000-2014.

GM Imports Proposal and Trade
WTO partners concerned

Following a very critical reception by EU legislators, several WTO member states have raised concerns about the recently published EU Commission proposal to allow EU Member States to ban the “use” of GMOs on their territories. Comments from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, South Africa and the United States were published on the Commission’s website, and media reported that additional countries such as Paraguay have raised their concerns orally.
Intellectual Property
Fundamental to SMEs

On 28 July at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, senior executives from 3 small and medium sized EuropaBio member companies (KeyGene, Arcelor and ActoGeniX) discussed their firms’ emphasis on innovation, collaboration, technology transfer, and IP management. The event was the first in a series co-sponsored by CropLife International, Innovation Insights, and EuropaBio and a summary is available here.
GM Maize Cultivation
EFSA’s green light, again

On 1 July, EFSA confirmed once again the safety of two GM maize products for cultivation in the EU. In the case of 1507 maize, this represents the 8th positive safety opinion in 14 years, but the product is still not authorised for cultivation in the EU. The Commission has already lost two court cases for not processing this product through the authorisation procedure as legally required, and in the most recent ruling from September 2013, the European General Court emphasised that “the European Commission has failed to fulfil its obligations” and that “the Commission cannot, in a dilatory manner, repeatedly request opinions from EFSA pending the arrival of new scientific data”. Following the Council vote on the product ultimately held in February 2014, the Council press release stated:
“Now that the Council has been unable to reach a qualified majority neither for nor against the proposal, it is up to the Commission to authorise the maize 1507.”
Cultivation Bans of Safe Products
Scottish ban slammed by scientists

Since the adoption of the non-cultivation directive earlier this year, Member States now have until 3 October to request companies to restrict the geographical scope of their applications for GMO cultivation in the EU. Scotland was one of the first countries to officially announce its intention to opt-out. There has been widespread media coverage of Scotland’s decision, with criticism from farmers, leading European research institutions and mass media such as The Times. The Scottish Government’s decision opened a policy divide with Westminster, where evidence based policy is pursued. Germany followed shortly with a similar announcement, with regions having until 11 September to indicate whether their region should be included in the opt-out. The Wall Street Journal called the decision “environmental backwardness”. Read more in FT, Politico and The Times.    
U.S. to Speed-Up Approvals
White house wants more efficiency

A White house memorandum issued on 2 July explains the future efforts to update the United States Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology by improving the transparency, coordination, predictability, and efficiency of the regulation of biotechnology products while continuing to protect health and the environment. U.S. deregulation of GMOs currently takes less than two years on average with an objective to reduce the timelines to little over one year, as compared with an average of 6.5 years for GMOs approvals for import in the EU this year. The “asynchronous approvals” between the EU and the rest of the world have been causing legal uncertainty for operators and disrupted trade for a number of years, as evidenced for example by two Commission (mandated) reports from 2008 and 2010
Anti-GMO Vandalism
Activists’ attack on Italian feed industry

The feed company Mangimi Veronesi in the north of Italy was attacked for using (authorised) GMO products. Fifteen trucks containing feedstuffs were burned; the assailants wrote on the wall: “NO GMO. NO BREEDING”. The estimated economic damage resulting from the attack is of € 5m and there is no way to estimate the social impact that such an act of vandalism has. It is not the first time that GMO opponents use violence in Italy. In 2014, anti-GM protestors entered the EFSA premises in Parma, throwing smoke bombs and food and putting-up ‘NO GM’ signs while also vandalising farms and fields in Northern Italy, invading a farmer’s home with tear gas and graffiti. Read more here and here.
From the Member States
 Austria: GMO Cultivation Framework Law Passed
The framework law for cultivation of GMOs in Austria which keeps the decision making power to approve GMO crops with the Austrian states (Länder) gathered the necessary two-thirds in the National Council of Austria. Read more

 Belgium: Successful GM Potatoes Field Trial
Flemish researchers from the University of Ghent and the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) published the results of their 2011-2012 field trials with GM potatoes. They leave no doubt that a combination of various naturally occurring resistant genes secures the protection of the plant against pests. Read more
 Germany: Minister Backs Biotech
A few weeks before Germany’s announcement about banning GM crops cultivation, in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, federal research minister Johanna Wanka deplored that “we are leading a partly fact free discussion. Green biotechnology is an example for this.” “In the public debate in Germany, the negative is being emphasised more than in some other countries. And this is where politics holds responsibility”. “Without a perspective for use (of the technology), sooner or later there will also be no more research on it in Germany.” 

 Germany: GM-Free Protein Feed Unlikely
German retailers continue to push for non-GM protein feed to be specifically used for their own private label products. The Federal Association of the German Retail Grocery Trade (BVLH), representing all food retailers in Germany, has adopted a position paper on feeding livestock to claim that "the vast majority of companies" would support GM-free protein feed. (Read more in USDA report) Meanwhile, a study of the Institute of AgriBusiness (IAB) at the University of Gießen clearly rejected the demands to replace GM soybean imports by domestic production of protein feed plants. The researchers assure that the agronomic and economic challenges associated with this conversion process would cost billions and will impact the production and competitiveness of German agriculture. Domestic cultivation of protein feed is also handicapped by limited agricultural land. Read more here and here.
 Ireland: Fears Not Backed Up by Facts
William Reville, an emeritus professor of biochemistry at University College Cork, argues in the Irish Times that GM crops offer many advantages that we may have forgotten about.

 Poland: GMO Natural, Not Invented by Us
Gazeta Wyborcza, one of the most influential Polish newspapers, shed light on the science behind GMOs and the movement of genes between species. “Today we know that the appearance of new genes does not necessarily result from changes in their DNA, but it may be the result of a “wandering” gene from another species. Such a way of acquiring new characteristics is certainly faster than the slow and laborious evolution”.
 Portugal: What Will GM Opponents Say Now?
António Coutinho, former Director of Gulbenkian Science Institute, one of the leading international research centres in Portugal, wrote an opinion article on the history of agriculture, the science behind GM crops and their importance for the environment and society, touching upon the EU political, social and economic context. The author criticises the anti-GM movement for frequently promoting riots and being irrational. Read more
 Spain: Lesson on Ag Biotech and Sustainable Bioeconomy
Molecular biologist Marc Van Montagu, World Food Prize laureate 2013, highlighted that the agricultural application of GMOs is a harmless technology and a future solution to the challenges faced by food production in view of the steadily growing world populationRead more

 UK: Only 7% of People Concerned by GM Foods
The Food Standards Agency published its biannual public attitudes tracker for May 2015. Among the areas covered by the tracker are food safety issues of concern to the public. Just 7% of responses listed GM foods as a concern when unprompted, down 1% from 8% in the previous tracker. The level of concern about GM foods when prompted on the issue was 24% – the same level as in the previous tracker.

 UK: Special Report on Biotech
A special report on the Future of Agriculture & Food, featuring two articles on biotech, has been published in the Times. The first provided an overview to recent high profile GM stories stating that “against the clock, the question to ask is not perhaps whether GM is the answer, but whether GM is the question”. The second featured a for and against GM debate, with former Greenpeace UK director Stephen Tindale writing that “with biotechnology, the science says the risks of action are small, while the risks of inaction are enormous.”

 UK: Government Follows Independent Scientific Advice
The UK Government has published its response to a recent Science and Technology Committee’s report which warned that ‘the role of Government in leading national debate on issues such as climate change and genetically modified crops will be undermined if it cannot point to transparent, authoritative and independent science that the public can trust.’ The Government responded to the reference to GM crops directly, highlighting that their approach has consistently sought to inform the public debate by referring to independent scientific advice.
Science & Miscellaneous
EASAC Statement on New Breeding Techniques
Call for transparent & proportionate EU policy

EASAC, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, has published a statement on new breeding techniques (NBTs) in which they highlight the importance of supporting innovation in plant breeding. EASAC points out that current legislative uncertainties need to be resolved and argue that NBTs should not fall within the scope of GMO legislation, when not containing foreign DNA. Read more

Consequences of GMO Traits’ Loss
Food price increase up to $14-$24bn per year

A recently published study analysed the effects of discontinuing GM products in the U.S. The authors conclude that the global savings in land use emissions due to using GMO crops in the U.S. range between 7 and 17% of global agricultural emissions. The price increase for corn were as high as +28% and for soybeans as high as +22%.
Wheat Initiative for GM & Genome Editing
Scientific body calls for increased research

The Wheat initiative, a scientific body coordinating global wheat research, recently issued a strategic research agenda. The report highlights that wheat producers will only be able to keep up with growing demand for the staple crop through research and that there is a strong need to access a full genome sequence for wheat.
Political Situation in EU Impedes Ag Research
Gaps between farmers’ needs and current research in EU

Researchers have identified the major challenges in European agriculture today for 9 major crops, mostly related to biotic stresses. Of the 128 biotic stress challenges identified, 40% was not addressed in the scientific literature or in recent European public research programs. The authors provide evidence that the current political situation in some European countries is hindering research to address these challenges. Read more
GM Rice with Higher Yields & Less Greenhouse Gas
50% more yield, 90 % less methane

Atmospheric methane is an important greenhouse gas, responsible for 20% of the global warming effect. Micro-organisms in rice paddies are responsible for annual methane emissions of 25–100 million tonnes. A study, published in Nature, reports the development by researchers from the Swedish University of Agriculture Sciences, of GM rice expressing a transcription factor gene from barley, resulting in increased biomass and less formation of methane. Read more here and here.
GM Wheat for Aphid Control
Decreased foraging but further trials needed

For the first time, a GM crop was developed that releases insect pheromones for defence purposes, as reported in this article. The researchers genetically engineered wheat to release (E)-β-farnesene, the alarm pheromone for many pest aphids. Although the laboratory assays were promising, the field trials showed no reduction in aphids, possibly due to low insect numbers and erratic climatic conditions. 

  • Tell Greenpeace to Allow Golden Rice! (petition on Avaaz)
  • EU-funded lobbyists: Why do they exist? (EUObserver)
  • How over-precautionary policies can have opposite effects (The Risk-Monger blog)
  • Something fishy: how to make farmed salmon into vegetarians (The Economist)
  • Are GMOs and organic foods compatible? (video by Science Over Coffee)
  • Owen Paterson: Ignore EU scaremongering, the case for GM food is clear (Politics Home)
  • Unhealthy Fixation: The War Against GMOs (Slate)
EuropaBio Informs
The State of Agricultural Biotech in Europe
Livestock farmers, and ultimately all of us, are paying unnecessarily high prices because the EU system for GM import authorisations has become dysfunctional. Beat Späth, Ag Biotech Director at EuropaBio, hopes that 2015 will mark a shift towards coherent policy-making. Let’s make sure that facts and freedom of choice prevail over scaremongering. Read more in our animated online report.

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. 

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. Discover also how long the risk assessment of a GMO dossier takes (over 5 years, up from less than 2). 
EuropaBio's Trade Talk Blog
Interested in knowing if Brussels could ever ban the banana, or maybe looking for information on GM imports from a national perspective? Do not miss out on the articles from EuropaBio’s Trade Talk blog and join the debate on @GrowingVoicesEU using #GMtrade!
External Information Sources
  • Discover how plant breeders have been creating new and better crops with different crop modification techniques (conventional and biotech) in this infographic by biofortified. 
  • Check CropLife International’s online database of the plant biotechnology product pipeline for the next 15 years.
  • Ask all your questions about GMOs on GMO Answers.
  • Learn more on regulation, trade and transport of biotech crops in the GAABT resource section.
Read It in Your Own Language
  • Pocket guide to GM crops and policies (EN, ES, IT, FR, DE, PL, RO)
  • 5,000 Years of Crop Protection (EN, ES, PT)
  • GMO: do we judge before we know? (EN, PT, IT, FR)
  • More sustainability: European agricultural policy and plant biotechnology (EN, DE)
  • Farming and the environment Factsheet (EN, ES)
  • Food Security Factsheet (EN, ES)
  • Food Security in a Changing Climate (EN, ES, PT)
  • Save Our Soils: The Benefits of No-till (EN, ES, PT)
  • How Much do Plant Science Discoveries cost? (EN, ES, PT)
  • Trade in Agriculture Factsheet (EN, ES)

Selection For Your Agenda


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
Growing Voices
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