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Green Biotech rEvolutions Newsletter
Table of Contents

Guest Opinion

Diran Makinde  

A message to the EU:
Africa must access biotech for development  

 

Dear Readers,

Last month, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) called on the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to not support genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa. This call is very unfortunate and would institutionalise poverty on a continent that is already facing dire challenges. The G7 group of nations’ joint initiative with the New Alliance – aimed at lifting 50 million Africans out of poverty by 2022 in part through improving access to agricultural biotechnology - –must not be thrown out of the window.
 
The recent EP report recommended that intensive agriculture, which made Europe, the Americas and many parts of Asia food secure, should not be applied in Africa, but that the continent should remain reliant on small-scale farming practices that have not been able to meet our food and nutrition needs. Despite the huge amount of GM cereals and legumes imported into Europe used as feedstuff, their cultivation is prohibited in several (though not all) EU countries – to ‘protect’ the environment, to maintain the organic market, and, more importantly, for ideological reasons, something which is both paradoxical and absurd. The science clearly shows that GMOs are safe and can offer several benefits to farmers, consumers and the environment.
 
It has been established that agricultural biotechnology is needs-based in Africa. Reports from other developing countries that adopted the technology speak volumes on the benefits. The African end users, farmers and consumers need to be given the opportunity to access and assess the technology themselves.
 
What we are striving to achieve in Africa is to embrace a science-based approach towards GMO policy decisions, with the European Food Safety Authority as a possible reference point. On trade, once Africa is able to harmonise the regulatory frameworks properly within the regional economic communities (REC), intra-Africa trade will be big enough to absorb demand for GM products, which would focus on African commodities, thereby minimising any impact on trade with the EU.
 
The European Parliament should uphold its tenets of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights by not opposing the African Union’s efforts to make use of all available beneficial technologies. It is surprising to note that the Parliament’s call is only directed at Africa but not towards other developing countries in Latin America and Asia. The African farmer must have the right to decide whether to plant improved seeds and must have access to safe new products that will benefit the family farm, local communities and also contribute to improved livelihoods and socio-economic development.

Yours sincerely,
Diran Makinde

Professor Diran MAKINDE is the immediate past Director of the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (NEPAD’s) African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE), which is currently based in Dakar, Senegal. He now serves as Senior Advisor at ABNE and is based at the NEPAD Agency Head Office in South Africa.

“The EU has so far not come close to satisfactorily demonstrating an evidence-based approach to policy making (on GMOs).”

– UK House of Commons Science & Technology Committee report on EU regulation of the life sciences.

“GE crops have generally had favourable economic outcomes (…), but enduring and widespread gains will depend on institutional support and access (…) especially for resource-poor farmers.”

– The U. S. National Academies report on Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects.

"With a growing world population (…) I don't think we can afford to give up on useful technologies especially to help poorer countries have a reliable and nutritious source of food."

Prof. Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the UK Royal Society’s Council.

Crimes against humanity?

Nobel laureates accuse Greenpeace

110 nobel prize laureates have urged Greenpeace in a public letter to abandon its campaign against GMOs and golden rice in particular. The letter states that Greenpeace has “misrepresented the risks, benefits and impacts, and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects” and asks: “How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a crime against humanity?” The news was reported by most major European outlets including Times, Guardian, Independent, Monde, Point, Nouvel Obs, Spiegel, Sueddeutsche, Welt, NZZ, Repubblica, Mundo, Pais, Vanguardia, Gazeta Wyborcza, and Polish National Radio.

Science against ecoterrorism

Counter-attack

Prompted by an explosive parcel sent to a GMO scientist at EFSA, some of the most important public science organisations in the EU (incl. the European Academies of Science) sent a public letter asking EP President Schulz to condemn such attacks, as “they are also attacks on (…) our society". The agency was targeted two years ago when a group of anti-GM protestors entered its premises and detonated smoke bombs. Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis tweeted that he was “appalled” and vowed that “science will not be intimidated”. Meanwhile, Scientists met with him, warning of an “onslaught of pseudo-science”.

MEPs oppose choice in Africa

Neo-Colonialism?

The European Parliament asked in a report not to support GM crops in Africa. This generated strong counter-reactions in Africa, including in newspapers like Nation (Kenya) and Jeune Afrique, open letters from Parliamentarians and farmers (German version here). See also our guest editorial.

 


  

Commission maladministration continues

The Commission’s new delays on GMO import approvals turned into clear maladministration on 27 April, and the Commission still has not acted. It has been six months since three products were voted by Member States at the Appeal Committee, and the EU Ombudsman decided in January 2016 that delays of three and a half months at this final stage constitute maladministration. In addition to EuropaBio, EU farmers, supply chain partners, Canadian and US farmers and many others have complained publicly about the disruptive impacts of these delays.

Increasing safety assessment timelines

Despite a 20 year history of safe use of GM crops, EFSA timelines for risk assessment of GMOs keep increasing. Some files have been pending in EFSA for over 6 years without an opinion. Read more about the reasons behind these delays and its impact on Europe in our latest infographic.

Opt out plan: excessive costs

The Commission’s GM food and feed imports proposal is still pending in Council. Despite voices of a large majority of delegations against the EC proposal, the subject was not raised at ministerial level this year and is not included in the Slovak presidency planning. EuropaBio published an infographic on the negative impacts of potential bans on GM imports.

Poland may postpone GM feed ban

The Polish Feed Law foresees a ban on (imported) GM feed materials. Following discussions in June, its entry into force could again be postponed.

How will Brexit impact green biotech?

GM issues will still be regulated by the EU for now, but the UK will doubtless have less decision-making influence than before. For more UK GMO news, check out abc.

Commission resistant to evidence

In its report on EU regulation of the life sciences, a UK House of Commons committee emphasised “resistance from the European Commission to evidence-based policy making and science”, including the hostility to GMOs as well as an arbitrary use of the precautionary principle.

Romania: Agri biotech paradox

Whilst Romania is a large importer of GM soybeans, local farmers are being denied the right to grow them, even though they did widely prior to EU accession. This was highlighted at a workshop at the Ag University of Timisoara on 25-26 May, featuring a speech by Prof. E. Badea.

No new breeding clarification?

The EC’s interpretative document on whether any genome-edited plants count as GMOs has been delayed again and will be published “in the course of 2016,” according to Commissioner Andriukaitis. As reported in our May rEvolutions edition, third countries, stakeholders and Member States are encouraging a pragmatic science-based approach towards New Breeding Techniques.

No revision of Patents Directive

On 18 May, both Commissioner Bieńkowska and Dutch Ag Minister Van Dam stated that the solutions to find a balance between the systems for patent and plant variety protection will not include a revision of the EU’s Biotech Patents Directive. The biotech sector strongly welcomes a stable legal framework for innovation. Check out our new Intellectual Property factsheet to learn more about the role of patents in agricultural biotech.

Books: Innovation resistance, GM Revolution

In “Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies”, Prof. Calestous Juma (Harvard Kennedy School) explains why understanding obstacles to change is needed to enable global progress through technology. You can follow Dr. Juma on twitter @calestous. The book “The GMO Revolution” by Wim Grunewald and Jo Bury is now available for download in English. It explores the origins of modern plant biotechnology at Ghent University and shows how GM crops can be used to solve agricultural challenges, from the development of blight resistant potatoes to improved biofuel production and nutrient profiles.

Food prize winner for NBTs

In Corriere della Sera, Indian agronomist S. Rajaram, winner of the World Food Prize 2014, clarified that organic agriculture cannot guarantee food security, while noting that genome editing and new breeding techniques offer real possibilities to sustainably meet the world’s growing food needs.

Stop politics in safety assessment!

In 2013, the Commission imposed mandatory 90-day animal feeding trials for GM food and feed risk assessment for political reasons and against the will of the EU’s risk assessment body (EFSA), which repeatedly dismissed the requirement as unnecessary. The Commission was supposed to review the requirement in light of the EU- funded GRACE project, which concludes that the requirement is not scientifically justified. However the Commission failed to do so. Read more in our press release.

EuropaBio workshop Back to Basics

In June, EuropaBio organized the workshop “Back to basics: risk assessment principles for GM plants”. Are food and feed risk assessments for GM plants fit for purpose and implemented according to general risk assessment principles? Over 90 participants from 22 countries took part in the workshop (including via live stream) representing academia, regulators and institutions from around the world, and industry.

Academies re-confirm safety

The list of GMO studies by the world’s representative scientific institutions grew longer, with the addition of publications by the U.S. and UK national academies. Both confirm the scientific consensus shared by the European Academies of science: GM crops are as safe as conventional crops. Take a look at the Royal Society’s easily accessible questions and answers, find out more on our website.

German ministers counter scaremongering

GMO and glyphosate related scaremongering has prompted sharp counter-reactions. Germany’s Ag minister Schmidt emphasized that by voting against safety assessed products “we are (…) consciously putting ourselves above the legal procedure, which foresees decisions based on scientific insights”. Research minister Wanka warned: ”the fascinating possibilities for example with gene editing (…) threaten to be destroyed by scaremongering”.  Die Welt commented „the logic of environmental NGOs prevents any progress in research”.

Romania: Communicating & enhancing science

The Romanian and European Seed Industry Associations co-hosted a workshop in Bucharest on 19 May. ESA, the Risk Monger D. Zaruk, and AgroBiotechRom presented ideas aimed at tackling scientific communication challenges where understanding is limited and views are biased. At the annual biotech symposium of Bucharest Ag University, rector Cimpeanu underlined the important role of GM crops and unveiled plans to inaugurate a modern facility of the biotech faculty in the beginning of October as part of the European Biotech week.

Italian scientist against false myths

Geneticist Roberto Defez (Research Committee & author of bestselling "Il caso OGM”, emphasised that Italian media are progressing towards more balanced reporting on GMOs.

GM cultivation approvals?

On 8 July, Member States discussed, for the first time in years, the possibility of approving or re-approving GM maize for cultivation in the EU. The three products in question have been pending in the EU’s dysfunctional system for GMO cultivation approvals for 15 years and more. Industry has withdrawn most cultivation dossiers during recent years, and companies are focusing their product pipelines on other parts of the world. EuropaBio urges the Commission to correctly implement the GMO authorisation system, not just for cultivation but more importantly for imports.

French ban declared illegal yet again

On 15 April, the highest French court also declared the national ban on cultivation of GMO maize illegal for the fourth time, as reported by EuropaBio earlier this year. Having run out of GMO fields to destroy, anti technology vandals in France have now turned on imports, „neutralising” a cargo of GM soybeans at a port near Nantes.

Greens renew call for GM ban

The top reason in a new publication is that “EU citizens don’t want GMOs”. “54% of EU citizens think GMOs are not safe (…). This alone should be enough to ban GMOs”. What else should we ban based on misconceptions by a (slight) majority? Check out our factsheet “How gene’ophobic are we?”

GM benefits reach $150 billion

A new report by PG Economics quantifies the impressive benefits of GM crops for farmers ($100/hectare), especially in developing countries as well as for the environment.

50 percent higher rice yield

Researchers from China and from the UK’s John Innes Centre have developed rice crops with an improved ability to manage their own pH levels, enabling them to take up significantly more nitrogen, iron, and phosphorous from soil and increase yield by up to 54 percent.

World food prize to sweet potato

Four scientists responsible for improving the health of 10 million rural poor have received the 2016 World Food Prize. They have had leading roles in developing vitamin-A fortified GM crops including the orange-fleshed sweet potato.

Italy: Farmers for GM maize

Italian farmers are banned from using GMOs with insect resistance. The situation compromises both harvest quality and quantity. As documented in a recent TV broadcast, more than 2400 Italian farmers signed a petition asking authorities to open the GMO option to support the local agricultural economy.

Swiss field trials moving ahead

Despite a sharp downturn in EU field trials, Switzerland has been moving ahead with trials of mildew-resistant wheat, late blight-resistant potatoes and fire blight resistant apple trees at the "Protected Site" near Zurich. NZZ reports that an application to test higher yielding GM wheat has been submitted. For more Swiss news on GMOs, check out POINT newsletter.

New EuropaBio website


Check out our brand new website! Our ag biotech section includes updated facts and figures and so much more!

Biotech party across Europe

European Biotech Week is back this year between 26 September and 2 October. Get inspired on http://www.biotechweek.org/!

EuropaBio in the media

We urged the EP to support innovation in agriculture. In case you missed it, read more about the EU’s innovation needs in our recent article “No Excuse”.

Contacts

EuropaBio is the European Association for Bioindustries. Our Secretary General is Nathalie Moll. The Green Biotechnology Team are Beat Späth, Chris Gallasch, Pedro Narro, Delphine Carron and Violeta Georgieva.

For more information and our contact details
www.europabio.org

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