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Green Biotech rEvolutions Newsletter
November 2015
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Guest Opinion

Evidence-based GMO policy needed


Christofer Fjellner, MEP (EPP, Sweden)
Dear Readers,
 
International trade and our EU internal market can only thrive on logical, evidence based rules. I am therefore very happy that the European Parliament has very clearly rejected a Commission proposal which was going to allow Member States to ban the “use” of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are approved in the EU. Most of the GMOs we import into the EU are used to feed our farm animals. It is hard to tell what the proposal would have meant in practice: would France have been able to ban its farmers from using Spanish feed, claiming that it may contain GMOs? 


There is nothing to suggest that transgenesis would somehow be more dangerous than traditional plant breeding. Nevertheless, there still is a very vocal opposition to GMOs, often based on almost religious grounds. But fortunately almost everyone agrees that this cannot justify undermining the internal market which is one of the foundations of the EU, and a majority of MEPs also rejected an amendment calling for a moratorium on additional GMO approvals.
 
I strongly believe that the appeasement policy needs to stop, because fundamentalists cannot be appeased. Instead, and as long as there is no qualified majority of Member States against, the Commission should simply administer the product authorisation system as it was intended. Whether a vocal minority likes it or not: Safe products must be allowed onto the market! 


 
Yours sincerely,

Christofer Fjellner, MEP (EPP, Sweden)
Quotes of the Month
 
We need to apply the current Regulation and not prohibit the trade of products in the internal market. The Commission's proposal clearly conflicts with its 'better regulation' and 'transparency' goals
– Giovanni La Via MEP (EPP, Italy) referring to the ‘nationalisation of imports’, 29 October 2015
 
In effect, the Continent is shutting up shop for an entire field of human scientific and technological endeavor. This is analogous to (…) Europe’s prohibiting the printing press in the 15th century
 
Mark Lynas, British author and environmental activist in the New York Times, referring to national bans on GMO cultivation 
European & International News
Nationalisation of GMO Imports
Clear Parliament rejection

On 28 October, the European Parliament rejected, in an unusually large cross-party consensus (577 votes to 75, 38 abstentions), the Commission's proposal to allow national bans on the use of safe, EU-approved products on the basis of non-scientific criteria. An amendment calling for an arguably illegal moratorium on new GMO authorisations was also rejected (383 votes to 281, 16 abstentions). Meanwhile, the European Commission clarified it still intends to uphold its proposal. On 14 October, a breakfast roundtable attended by various MEPs, Commission representatives and representatives from the EU food and feed chain, was held in the European Parliament. The event demonstrated the potential negative impact that a restriction of the use of biotech food and feed could have in Europe. Watch ANSA video from the breakfast debate.

Nobody Asked for It, Nobody Wants It
Reactions to the Parliament's vote

On behalf of the EPP, rapporteur and chairman of the environment committee G. La Via (Italy) pointed out that “the Commission's proposal clearly conflicts with its 'better regulation' and 'transparency' goals”. S&D, the second biggest political group, also opposed the proposal calling for a new one. On behalf of the ECR, J. Girling (UK Conservative) said that "the Commission's refusal to withdraw its proposal despite opposition from a huge majority of the Parliament flies in the face of its own Better Regulation agenda.” The EU Food and Feed Chain Coalition emphasised that “this proposal is in clear disagreement with the EU’s political priorities on ‘jobs and growth’ and ‘better and smart regulation’”. Coceral, Fefac and Fediol additionally highlighted their recent Economic Impact Assessment, and stated that “there is no alternative today but to ensure a correct implementation of the current GM food and feed system, respecting time limits prescribed by the legislation.” EuropaBio urges the Commission to take heed of the vote by the democratically elected Parliament and withdraw its harmful and disproportionate proposal, in line with its own Better Regulation Agenda and proceed with implementing the existing legislation in a timely fashion.

GMO Approvals for Import
New undue delays?

Following the last GMO import authorisations in April, EFSA concluded 5 additional GMO crops to be as safe as conventional crops (in June and July). The Commission is legally required to put EFSA-assessed products to the Member States’ vote within 3 months, and took 16 months for this step alone for products authorised so far in 2015. Two maize products were voted (nearly) on time in the Standing Committee meetings in September and October. The three remaining EFSA-assessed soya bean products will likely be voted on 18 November. Risk assessment of the 5 products in EFSA took on average 47 months, which is slightly shorter than the timelines for risk assessment opinions adopted in 2014 (60 months). Discover why undue delays matter in this publication.
 
Clarification on New Breeding Techniques
Will the Commission follow scientific advice?

The European Commission is planning to clarify the legal status of new breeding techniques around the end of this year and the question on everyone’s mind is whether the Commission will follow the scientific advice it has been gathering for the last 8 years. Most notably, a Member States expert group which was convened by the Commission for the very purpose of clarifying the legal status met over more than two years and finalised a report in early 2012. This report concluded that most of the techniques under scrutiny do not lead to GMOs. However, the report was never published by the Commission. EASAC, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, came to a similar conclusion in a recently published statement. Another recent publication highlights the commercial potential of the products and how they can contribute to provide sustainable solution for agricultural production. More information on the techniques can be found on the NBT platform website. The regulatory and legislative status of new breeding techniques in 13 countries outside the EU can be found in this study (Schuttelaar & partners, 2015).
Intellectual Property
Ministers & MEPs debate breeders’ rights

Farm ministers and the European Parliament’s agriculture committee have debated the issue of plant-related patents and plant breeders’ rights. The Dutch government and Dutch MEPs put the issue on the political agenda earlier this year, following a decision by the European Patent Office’s Enlarged Board of Appeal on the so-called ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Tomato’ II cases in March 2015. These decisions clarify that patents may be granted for plants obtained by essentially biological processes, such as crossing and selection, provided all other stringent patentability criteria (novelty, inventive step, industrial application, public disclosure, clarity of claims, etc.) are met. Modern plant breeding is a high tech sector with significant R&D investments which uses a variety of biotechnological inventions for delivering tangible benefits to the society. The robust intellectual property protection is considered critical by the entire sector. Because plant breeders’ rights and patents protect different plant-related inventions, an intellectual property system which allows for both is required by companies. In fact, public institutions such as the renowned French National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA) also use patent protection to bring breakthrough technology onto the market and generate income, reducing their dependency on tax payers’ money. Find out more about the benefits of patent protection in a case study about INRA’s Ogura rapeseed technology. EuropaBio underlines the importance of a stable biotechnology patent legislation and has listed proposals to address the ongoing discussion on plant breeders’ rights. Find out here if the biggest patent holders are multinationals or Dutch plant breeders.
 
Cultivation Bans on Safe Products
Half of Europe turns against the science

GMO cultivation in the EU is set to remain at a low level for the foreseeable future as European farmers in some countries have officially been denied their freedom to choose. Fifteen Member States and four regions have requested to be excluded from the geographical scope of GMO authorisations for cultivation. These opt-outs follow the adoption of the ‘non cultivation’ directive at EU level in April 2015, and have not been challenged by applicant companies. EuropaBio has consistently opposed this ‘licence to ban’, considering it a stop sign for agricultural innovation. In the New York Times, Mark Lynas defines these countries as the ‘Coalition of the Ignorant’, with Forbes reporting that it “will deny many EU farmers potentially valuable options in the future”. Individual bans have been criticised by farmers, with Scotland’s ban being slammed by leading European research institutions and mass media such as The Times. Following the Commission’s continued failure to process safety-assessed GMO products for cultivation through the authorisation system following safety confirmation from EFSA, most of the product applications have been withdrawn, currently leaving 5 maize products in the regulatory pipeline, in addition to the only GMO maize product already authorised for cultivation at EU level.  


Progress on Other Continents
Europe lagging ever further behind

Last month Argentina proudly announced the approval of two new nationally developed GM crops: virus resistant potatoes and drought-tolerant soya beans. In Asia, scientists from the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) have started field trials of Golden Rice – vitamin A-enriched rice developed for humanitarian use. The WHO says that one out of five pre-school children in Bangladesh lacks vitamin A, as well as 24% of pregnant women in the country. If you want to get more involved you can si
gn the petition to support the Bangladeshi Golden Rice field trials and condemn any attempts to destroy them. In Africa, field trials of Nitrogen Use Efficient rice in Ghana and Uganda have demonstrated an average yield increase of 19% over conventional rice, with the Ugandan President calling on the Parliament to be more forward thinking about biotechnology. Whilst African leaders are seeking ways to feed their people, Calestous Juma writes about how the EU starves Africa into submission. Read more about the developments in Argentina, Bangladesh, Ghana and Uganda.  
From the Member States
 Biotech Week Celebrated in 15 Countries 
The 3rd edition of the European Biotech Week took place in October and concluded with more than 100 events and activities involving thousands of Europeans in a record 15 European countries. In Belgium, EuropaBio, in partnership with the Belgian biotech association BIO.be, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and Bayer organised a visit for over 30 EU policy makers to VIB’s research labs and greenhouses, followed by a practical impression of the grain and feed trade at the port of Ghent. In Italy, the Museum of Science and Technology of Milan hosted a debate on the solutions offered by biotechnology for sustainable agriculture, which concluded with wine tasting, produced from a disease-resistant vine bred by the Udine University research team thanks to biotech selection tools. In Portugal, the Centre for Biotechnology Information and the University of Coimbra organized a conference which addressed the challenges of biotechnology in the EU, new breeding techniques, as well as recent scientific advances. The Romanian association of biotech has organized its fourth study tour under the program Information Makes You Stronger, where fifteen students with exceptional academic results got to learn more about biotechnology applied to wine production, and EuropaBio met with students from the Technical University of Munich and with international students in Milan during the World Food Week to discuss the benefits of agricultural biotechnology. The next edition is planned to take place between September 26 and October 2, 2016 and will run alongside National Biotech Week in Canada as well as initiatives in some African states, the Philippines and Indonesia.

 
 France: Plant Biotech Essential for Growth
A study by French economists Nicolas Bouzou and Christophe Marques finds that European farmers are losing yearly between 443 and 929 million euros by being denied the choice to adopt GM technology. In the long term, this has negative consequences on growth and jobs. The authors point a finger at the irrational and harmful effects of the misapplication of the precautionary principle regarding GM technologies, which has deprived Europe of other innovations too.



 
 Germany: GMO Cultivation Opt-Out
Along with other European countries Germany positioned itself against GMO maize cultivation. In the application letter to the EU Commission agriculture minister Schmidt declared that the cultivation of genetically modified maize is incompatible with the standard arable use in Germany. There is no legal basis for this application letter to the Commission, as no national law has yet been adopted regulating opt out. Read more


 Italy: Ag Minister In Favour of Biotech
In his letter sent to the magazine “L’Espresso” on 26 October, the Italian minister of agriculture Maurizio Martina speaks in favour of the use of biotechnology in agriculture. According to Martina, genome editing and cisgenesis, can deliver a targeted genetic improvement, conferring productivity gains and allowing breeding of disease-resistant traits. He calls for research to be focused on major Italian crops and sets a clear distinction between new breeding techniques and GMOs. Read more
 Poland: GMO Imports Ban Harmful to Livestock
One of the biggest Polish daily newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza, published a special edition on safe, effective and responsible agriculture, which comments on the Commission’s proposal to ban the use of GMOs for food and feed. The author stresses that such a ban would put into question the profitability of poultry and meat farming in Poland and reminds the sceptical position of the Polish government towards the Commission’s proposal, which judges it incompatible with the internal market. 


 Spain: Farmers Back GM Technology
On September 11, about 150 farmers from the South of Spain gathered to debate the role of innovation and the benefits of biotech for the farming sector. The conference revealed how new technologies can improve farm management. Beat Späth and Pedro Narro from EuropaBio highlighted that Bt maize is a success story which helps Spanish farmers be competitive on the global market, and that livestock farmers need GMO imports. Francisco Moreno, President of Innovacádiz, also defended innovation in agriculture.

 Spain: Call for the Implementation of a Coherent GMO Policy
The “Alimentos ConCiencia” Platform held a breakfast meeting in which representatives of the agricultural sector urged the European Union to implement a coherent GMO policy based on scientific evidence. The keynote speaker Dr. Wayne Parrott, Professor at the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at the University of Georgia, reminded that GMOs are already part of our daily lives as we wear clothes made of genetically modified cotton and pay with GM cotton banknotes. Read more

 Switzerland: Cisgenic Apple Trial
Swiss scientists have devised a way to make apple trees more resistant to the devastating bacterial disease fire blight, by introducing a cisgene derived from wild apples into elite cultivars. This could help to reduce the use of environmentally problematic streptomycin antibiotic treatments to prevent infection. They have now applied for a multi-year field trial at the "protected site" research facility close to Zurich, where genetically modified disease resistant potatoes and wheat plants are already grown.


 UK: Going against the Grain Report
The Going against the grain report, which highlights the importance of GM imports for the food and farming sector in the UK, was launched by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council in Parliament at an event attended by Food and Farming Minister George Eustice MP. Speaking at the event, Eustice recognised the impact that any restriction of GM feed imports to the UK would be ‘profound’ and undermine the single market, a ‘tenet’ of the European Union.

 UK: Dara O'Briain Comments on GM Crops
Comedian Dara O’Briain is to present a new BBC documentary about trends in the food industry, called Tomorrow’s Food. Ahead of the programme he gave an interview to the Telegraph in which he commented on GM crops. He said that he does not have a problem with GM crops and argued that ‘they’re at a genetic level far below anything that’s going to affect your health.’ He also commented that the regulations around GM foods are ‘too strict.’ 
Science & Miscellaneous
Benefits of GM crops Confirmed
68% increased farmer profits, 22% higher yields

Researchers published their findings of a meta-analysis to consolidate the evidence of the agronomic and economic impacts of GM crops. The analysis reveals robust evidence of GM crop benefits for farmers in developed and developing countries, with 37% reduced pesticide use, 22% higher yields and overall 68% increased farmer profits. Read more

Over 3000 Studies Conclude GMOs Are Safe
New information platform for animal health

In the framework of the FP7 project Marlon, finalised last July, a new database was launched collecting information that links livestock health and consumption of feeds containing genetically modified organism (GMO) during a certain part of animals’ lifetime. All evidence points to the fact that there are no reported adverse effects of GM crops on animal health. Read more
  
GM Crops to Tackle Nutrient Deficiencies
Rice with high folate stability & vitamin B6 cassava

Folate deficiency can have severe effects on human health, in particular for pregnant women as it has a negative impact on the neural development of embryos. It is also associated with cardio-vascular diseases and cancer. Rice only contains limited amount of folate, hence there is a high incidence of folate deficiency in developing countries that have rice as a staple food. Scientists have now developed bio-fortified rice containing higher folate levels. In addition, Swiss plant scientists have discovered a way to increase vitamin B6 production in the roots and leaves of the cassava plant, one of the most important staple foods in Sub-Saharan Africa. Read more
GM Trees in the UK
Combatting ash dieback

The Times reported that scientists have advocated the use of GM trees to tackle the fungus that causes ash dieback. Scientists from Oxford and London universities have said that genetic modification could give the ash resistance to the fungus faster than traditional breeding. Richard Buggs, of Queen Mary University of London said that he views GM as one of several possibilities, and noted that ‘it could be quicker to develop GM trees resistant to ash dieback,” adding that conventional breeding would take many decades. 


Miscellaneous
  • Eaten sweet potato? Then you’ve had a GM meal (The Guardian)
  • Commission: Organic farming ‘not enough’ to address food security (EurActiv)
  • Is Chipotle's campaign against GMOs designed to distract consumers from their record with pathogens? (CNN)
  • How the EU starves Africa into submission (CapX by Calestous Juma)
  • What’s the difference between hazard and risk? (video, Risk Bites)
  • The Risk Song - With Hat Tip to Lehrer's Elements Song (video, Risk Bites)

 
EuropaBio Informs
GMO Authorisation Needs Legal Certainty
Nathalie Moll, EuropaBio Secretary General, has called for a shift to a more coherent and science-based approach to EU policymaking. All you really need is to adhere to legal timelines and authorise safe products. Read more in the Parliament Magazine October edition dedicated to GMOs.

 
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 the latest news and views on GMOs from arounds Europe? Check out EuropaBio's Growing Voices platform and its Trade Talk blog and join the debate on Twitter @GrowingVoicesEU!
 
External Information Sources
  • Ask all your questions about GMOs on GMO Answers.
  • 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.
  • 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

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/.
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