Green Biotech rEvolutions Newsletter
Table of Contents

Guest Opinion

Léon Broers

Innovation happens where it’s welcome


Dear Readers,

Innovation in plant breeding makes a huge difference. Just look at the humble sugar beet. Today, sugar beet yields and crop quality have improved remarkedly in Europe, compared to what they were over a hundred years ago. In addition to yields over 15 times larger today than they were in the mid-19th century, other improvements include improved disease and pest resistance, as well as nutrient efficiency, saving precious land and resources.
Yet, we know the challenges facing farmers are tremendous. Population growth, water scarcity and diminishing land availability will require continued breeding innovation. KWS already spends 18.5 % of sales per year on such research and breeding. Unfortunately, keeping up needed progress in Europe is likely to become increasingly difficult in light of the 2018 Court of Justice of the EU ruling on mutagenesis, which equates targeted, non-transgenic breeding methods as leading to GMOs. As a result, each genome-edited product will have to undergo a very lengthy and costly approval procedure only to then face additional barriers, since two thirds of EU Member States have GMO opt-outs in place. Such a globally heterogenic regulatory landscape furthermore threatens breeding progress.
It is clear that the Court of Justice ruling will lead to less investment in R&D in Europe, including less public funding, more expected brain-drain, and a loss of scientific excellence. As Executive Board member at KWS, my objective is to contribute to the future of farming both in Europe and beyond. Enabling European SMEs and farmers to innovate and compete requires proportionate EU legislative frameworks to incentivize innovation and applied science.
Equating plants developed with new breeding methods when they do not carry transgenes to GMOs is a non-starter. What we need from a regulatory standpoint is a targeted amendment of the EU GMO Directive 2001/18 in order to clarify that mutagenesis-derived plants are not GMOs, and to avoid regulatory discrimination between ‘like-products’. With its ruling, the European Court of Justice has passed the ball back to the European Commission and the member states. It is now up to the legislator to come around and make that necessary changes.

Yours sincerely,
Léon Broers 

Léon Broers joined the KWS Group in 2007, taking responsibility for the Research and Breeding Department as a member of the Executive Board. A plant breeder by training, he received his PhD from Wageningen University in 1989. After completing his doctorate, he worked in Mexico at the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (CIMMYT). As a research assistant, he was involved in research programs in South America and Africa in the field of resistance breeding of various cereals. In 1995 he returned to Europe and joined Lochow Petkus in Allones, France, where he was responsible for the breeding of wheat. In 1997 he became Head of Breeding for EuMEA at Dutch vegetable breeder Nunhems, where he managed the European breeding programs for various crop varieties until 2006. See his full article in Parliament Magazine on-line.

"I think 2019 will be an opportunity for overall reflection (…) about whether we accept science or not as the basis of making decisions on these issues.”

– EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan in Euractiv, 25 January 2019

“We have to make sure that the regulatory process is science-based – not fear! Not voted on by politicians! (…) If it is safe, it is safe.” 

– Canada’s minister of agriculture Lawrence MacAulay, 21 February 2019 Video (min 52:00)

“Misinformation becomes prevalent, which leads to bad policy. For example, the food safety agency in the EU determined biotech crops to be safe (…), and the EU continues to import biotech crops (…), yet the EU prohibits their own farmers from planting these biotech crops.” 

– US secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue at the US ag outlook forum, 21 February 2019. Video (min 46:30)

“I cannot express my frustration” with the EU on issues such as agricultural biotech or food safety. EU farm officials kowtow to environmental groups like Greenpeace.” 

– US chief U.S. agricultural negotiator Gregg Doud in 

EU Food Chief welcomes food law reform

In a Politico Q and A, the EU’s Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis expressed his reaction to the General Food Law reform deal reached by EU institutions in February to improve transparency and sustainability of food risk assessment. Recognising the importance of science, he noted: “This is a very complicated time when we see a lot of fake news with different interpretations, a lot of conspiracy theories and a lot of fights against multinational corporations and so on. You can see that the environment of trust in science now is under threat.” In addition to transparency improvements which would continue to protect confidentiality of business information where appropriate, he noted that the plans to develop “comprehensive risk communication … [which] must be done by an implementing act because if it isn’t, it means that this is a toothless communication.” EuropaBio has repeatedly called for a step change in communication and will continue to encourage public institutions to address the generation and spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories, that have eroded trust in some innovative, beneficial products like GMOs.

Parliament report shows need for green biotech

The European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology has published a report showing that agricultural technologies, including biotechnology and crop protection products, are vital for protecting the future food security of 11 billion people. “Organic farming is approximately 25% less productive (…). This implies that (…) more land is needed at the expense of biodiversity”, the report states. In addition to demonstrating future advances that could create durable resistance to crop diseases, like late blight in potatoes, the report notes that the cultivation of insect-resistant maize and cotton have already lowered the environmental impact of these crops substantially, leading to decreased use of active ingredients when compared to the cultivation of non-GMOs. Referring to newer methods of plant breeding, like CRISPR/Cas9, the report also warns that as a result of the 2018 CJEU ruling on mutagenesis, “Europe is missing out (on) a great opportunity to implement these technologies to reduce PPP use.”​​

Pricing innovation out of the EU

Despite their long history of safe use and thousands of approvals confirming their safety, the cost of authorising a new transgenic plant in the EU for import alone, is astoundingly high and takes way too much time. Find out more in our new factsheet on unnecessary costs and timelines for GMO approvals.

Why efficiency in risk assessment matters

Whether for food, medicines or chemicals, the EU’s risk assessment agencies improve the lives of citizens across the EU by enabling access to innovative products whilst ensuring the highest level of consumer safety. Nonetheless, in the field of GMOs, EFSA's comparatively inefficient risk assessment contributes to delays and creates uncertainty among the public and decision makers. Discover more in our new factsheet.

GMO Regulations in EU 'not fit for purpose'

European SMEs and public researchers are likely to bear the brunt of the damage that has been inflicted by the 2018 Court of Justice of the EU ruling on mutagenesis, as outlined in a recent LaBiotech article. Phytowelt GreenTechnologies, last year’s Biotech SME Award winner in the Agricultural Biotech category, is among the many SMEs and other stakeholders voicing their concerns. The current framework is not fit for purpose and could eventually put an end to many innovative undertakings across Europe. Read More.

Research needed in protein plants

A new report published by the Commission in February ‘New opportunities for the EU plant protein market’ shows that the market for plant proteins, including organic and GM-free food,  is set to grow. It also highlights the need for more research on protein rich crops to improve yields and quality. Unfortunately, agricultural biotechnology, including GMOs, which could help to address challenges related to stagnating yields, pest problems, and water-stress, does not appear to be sufficiently taken into consideration. See our protein gap brochure (in English, German or Spanish) to see why  greater efforts must also be made to support a rational, coherent and realistic protein strategy that fosters research and innovation, and recognises the importance of trade.

Bangladesh will approve Golden Rice

Farmers in Bangladesh will soon be able to grow Golden Rice, according to the nation’s agriculture minister. "Golden rice is more important than other varieties as it will help fight Vitamin A deficiency. The rice variety has already got clearance in USA, Canada and Australia," he said. The first golden rice was developed in the 1990s in Europe. Partly delayed by vandalism and political pressure from radical anti-technology activists, golden rice is expected to make an important contribution to tackling vitamin A deficiency, which is devastating particularly in countries where most people’s diet consists mainly of maize. 141 Nobel laureates signed an open letter urging Greenpeace and its supporters to abandon their campaign against GMOs, and against golden rice in particular. More information on the status of golden rice is available from IRRI.

Short Trade & Approvals News

Scientists take to the streets: “Give CRSPR a chance”

Young scientists from different universities and research institutes, together with Science For Democracy, organised a colourful CRISPR rice tasting in front of the European Parliament on 5 March to speak up for the benefits of genome editing and the negative implications across Europe of the European Court of Justice (CJEU) ruling on mutagenesis. Belgian authorities seized the food and identified political leader and Italian activist, Marco Cappato, who said: "The rule of law and juridical power are not able to understand how important it is to give CRISPR a chance. Not doing so, would be a wound to democracy itself.” Science for Democracy has highlighted that the CJEU ruling affecting CRISPR was “incoherent with facts, as crops obtained with less precise techniques are not listed and ruled as GMOs." Read more here (in Italian). And see the positive buzz created around the event on social media.

Calls from Germany to modernise GE law

The German Bioeconomy Council, an independent advisory body to the government, has called upon policy-makers to modernize the EU’s legislation on genetic engineering, noting that “otherwise, Germany would remain out in the cold in this ‘biological revolution’ and would have no say in shaping the necessary international regulations.” (see the statement in German and press release in English). At the International Green Week in Germany in January, the Grain Club, an agri-food chain association, also appealed to politicians to adapt the genetic engineering law to help address current challenges, including climate change and world food security, noting that new breeding methods can help to “provide urgently needed answers.” Despite a multitude of voices in favor of modernizing legislation, social democrats like  René Röspel MP, are against legislative changes. Whilst recognising that new breeding technologies are much more precise than conventional mutagenic breeding methods, Röspel has demanded the strict application of the precautionary principle in their risk assessment and ensuring a social debate. Still, the German government has “not yet positioned itself with regard to the efforts of other EU member states to change the EU genetic engineering law," according to the government's response to a parliamentary question submitted by the German Green party (see question 15). The German government's comprehensive answer also shows the importance of genome editing for modern plant breeding.

Detecting imports of genome edited products 

The EU’s internationally isolated position of classifying genome-edited plants as GMOs without exception, may become a serious problem for the import of agricultural products. As the German website TransGen reports, so far there are no suitable detection methods for genome-edited plants. The German government is supporting research into such detection methods, and as part of the European Network of GMO Laboratories (ENGL), German enforcement laboratories also participate in relevant discussions, which could lead to the development of standardised detection procedures at EU-level. As explained in TopAgrar, Germany already imports extensive amounts of genetically modified feedstuffs into Germany.

Is Europe ‘down under’ GM regulation?

"Options available to European food scientists are severely limited in the face of a global population boom, estimated to reach 9.7 billion by 2050", according to an article in LabNews. The undeniable predicament has been exacerbated by last year's European Court of Justice ruling equating certain gene edited products to GMOs. Dr. Lee Hickey, Senior Research Fellow at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, hopes that the predicament facing Europe won't be repeated Down Under. He underlines the “tragedy that historically GM has somehow been separated from the green movement. We would like to see these coexist, hand in hand, but unfortunately that’s not the case." He also notes, “Creating better crops for the future, more healthy crops – these are very, very important issues to do with food security and we should not be fighting that challenge with one hand tied behind our backs.”

Farewell to GMO pioneer, Silvano Dalla Libera 

Italian farmer and activist Silvano Dalla Libera has passed away. He campaigned for research and innovation in agriculture. He harvested Bt maize in Italian fields together with pro-GMO leaders Giorgio Fidenato and Duilio Campagnoli. Together they won many legal battles. Silvano leaves behind his legacy, inspiring people's critical thought and desire for freedom in agriculture. Read more (in Italian).

Short Innovation & IP News

  • The first gene-edited food is now being served - Wired
  • Rebellion against Europe’s ‘innovation-killing’ crop gene editing regulations grows among scientists, frustrated member states – Genetic Literacy
  • Gene-edited foods are safe, Japanese panel concludes - Science
  • Gene editing: how agritech is fighting to shape the food we eat – Financial Times
  • Virus lurking inside banana genome has been destroyed with CRISPR – New Scientist
  • Uganda to launch innovative gene-edited cassava research – Alliance for Science
  • Ten Reasons Why Agritech Doesn’t Matter in Europe – European Seed
  • Corteva official: Gene editing EU court ruling has sparked debate globally - Euractiv

Academy rewards journalist who documented the “end of the Séralini affair”

Journalist Sylvestre Huet has received the French Academy of Agriculture Scientific Information Prize for his article in on "GMO-poisons? The real end of the Séralini affair". This prize, which was awarded on 13 February 2019 by climatologist Jean Jouzel, with the active support of Syrpa, a network of agricultural communicators, rewards journalistic works that contribute usefully to public debate by the rigor of their analyses and informative quality. Read more (in French).  Also, see our blog “Misinformation is the only poison”  on GMOinfo in English.

Fake news out of the bag? Séralini’s Strategy 

The cat is out of the bag, and it's called "fake news", or "Infox" as Marc Brazeau reports. Years after the ‘Séralini Affair’, the false accusations made by French molecular geneticist Gilles-Eric Séralini against GMO safety still leave their sting behind in EU policy. Today, largely as result of his disinformation campaign that fueled distrust against GMOs, ethically and scientifically unjustified feeding trials remain necessary in the EU for GM crops. But how did one man's accusations ever have such a lasting impact? Brazeau's article explores the calculating strategy behind the ‘Séralini Affair’, which so damagingly positioned ‘exclusivity’ in access to information over real transparency and scientific journalism.

Genetic engineering explored 

Crop breeding encompasses a number of different techniques, as illustrated in this new infographic by Genetic Literacy. An accompanying article, illustrates how various methods of crop modification have existed and evolved over the years. Although the newest technologies are more precise, they are often also more regulated. For example, “the EU regulates GMOs and gene editing the same, under legislation that dates to the early 2000s that most scientists consider outdated.”

Strong GM-opponents THINK they know the most 

According to an analysis of surveys from the USA, France and Germany, published in Nature's Journal of Human Behavior, the strongest opponents of GM foods know least about them. The findings could have major implications for science and policy communication. Read more in The Guardian, The New York Times, and ArsTechnica (in English), or in TAZ (in German). A new study suggests that value-free education about the science of biotech can improve attitudes toward GMO foods.

French personalities call for science in agriculture 

Frenchmen Pierre Arditi, Jean-Robert Pitte et Jean-Pierre Raffarin are among the 80 personalities with diverse backgrounds asking for scientific knowledge to be put “back at the heart of agricultural transformation.” They warn that rejecting scientific progress in agriculture is the “path of regression." Read more in Le Monde (in French) or here (in English).

Poland pushes for “GMO free” label 

A government bill on “GMO free” labeling has been submitted to the lower house of the Polish Parliament (Sejm). The system would cover both products of plant origin that have authorised GM counterparts (i.e. maize, rapeseed, soybeans, sugar beet) as well as products of animal origin (e.g. meat, milk, eggs, cheese) originating from animals fed without GMOs. In a new article posted on GMOinfo-Poland, Łukasz Sakowski, a biologist from Poznan, explains why labels, like “organic” and “GMO free”, may actually be misleading. Contrary to widespread opinion, GMOs can help to prevent deforestation and habitat fragmentation, among other benefits. As noted in EuropaBio’s position paper on GM free labelling, “GMO free” labelling is a mere marketing tool, as there is already a legal requirement to label GM content in the EU.

Italian agency maps Russian dandelion genes 

Researchers based in the Italian National Agency for New Technologies (ENEA) have mapped the genes involved in rubber synthesis in the Russian dandelion. By comparing different specimens, ENEA researchers found that the rubber production and accumulation is in competition with the synthesis of other metabolites in the roots. By acting on genes producing these metabolites, it will be possible to raise the natural rubber yield, as a European alternative to the Amazonian rubber tree. Read more here (in Italian), and learn more about other relevant projects in Daily News and Rubber News (in English).

GMOs: improving photosynthesis in the future 

Improving photosynthesis may lead to bigger plants, just by making metabolism more efficient. A major Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, reports on progress obtained by American researchers who are joining bacteria and alga genes into tobacco DNA. Edited transgenic crops have a 40% higher yield and help to prevent the use of pesticides. The research may be applied on rice, wheat, beans, soy, tomatoes and eggplants.

Short Science & Safety News 

Pro-GMO chocolate to the rescue

A new, pro-GMO option for chocolate lovers is now on the market in North America. Launched by a nonprofit coalition of over 1,600 farmers, the new line of chocolate bars tastes good and tells an important story about how GMO farming has saved or could help protect delicious crops. Read more.

Eco-technical pathway should include biotech

A new report titled "An Africa-Europe Agenda for Rural Transformation", prepared by the European Commission's Task force Rural Africa, appears to recognise that future technological development can decrease reliance on fossil fuels and reduce negative health and environmental impacts. "As such, an 'eco-technical pathway' would promote simultaneously the rational use of biotechnology with modest external inputs, irrigation and mechanisation compatible with the ecological cycles." But will rhetoric be matched with action?

A blight on Irish farmers

A "Ban on GM crops is a blight on Irish agriculture," notes Dr. Thomas McLoughlin in an Opinion piece in The Irish Times. McLoughlin goes on to explain how the Irish government’s July 2018 announcement prohibiting the commercial cultivation of GMOs in that country will prevent farmers and consumers from obtaining important environmental benefits. Beyond innovations that can improve protection against climate challenges, he highlights how genetic engineering can significantly reduce the need or use of fungicides. GM potatoes tolerant to late blight fungus are likely to be more sustainable than non-tolerant varieties that are subject to organically used methods. Referring to a September 2018 report on “Challenges facing agriculture and the plant science industry in the EU”, he notes that the Irish Government "should take cognisance of this report. Otherwise Irish farmers could be at a competitive disadvantage in the future while the world’s major farm markets continue to gain access to new technologies in the production of food."

A billion acres of Bt crops support conservation biological control

Alliance for Science has published an article highlighting the comprehensive review in the Biological Control journal, which shows that Bt crops have been grown on more than one billion acres globally without any 'unintended adverse effects' to non-targeted species. The authors confirm that insect resistant genetically modified crops not only enable higher leads, but they also offer advantages for health and the environment. Read More.

Short Cultivation & Benefits News 

  • Biotech improved golden potatoes contain higher levels of vitamins A and E - ISAAA
  • GMO corn is transforming farmers’ lives in Philippines – Alliance for Science
  • Here's The Real Reason Why GMOs Are Bad, And Why They May Save Humanity - Forbes
  • Independent Review Finds GM Crop Moratorium in South Australia Costing Farmers Millions - ISAAA

Europe is getting ready for the 7th European Biotech Week


Preparations are underway for the 7th European #BiotechWeek which takes place between 23-29 September 2019. The European Biotech Week started in 2013 to mark the 60th anniversary of the DNA structure discovery, which is reflected in the new logo. Since then , the initiative mobilised more than 40.000 European citizens. Read More, check the latest events, and get involved!

Faces of farming highlight the opportunity for agriculture post-Brexit


The Agricultural Biotech Council in the UK has launched a series of interviews, 'Faces of Farming', in which UK scientists and experts warn of the “barrier to innovation” facing British farming following the European Court of Justice’s ruling affecting gene editing, but also highlight the opportunity Brexit represents for the UK to spur innovation. “The problem is the European Commission and various Member States’ attitudes, which hugely stifle our ability to access GM products that North and South American farmers have much easier access to (…) Every time a new product comes up, it takes forever to be approved.” said Dr. Zoe Davis, Chief Executive, National Pig Association. Read More.

Recognising the women behind our food


Many European women are recognised this year as #FoodHeroes. They are the names and faces of people who are contributing to improved nutrition, food security and food sustainability both inside and outside of Europe. Read more about them and their on-going achievements on CropLife International’s website.

Test your plant science knowledge


Plant science is helping to make our food safer and healthier – which is more important than ever in a world with a fast-growing population. But how? Test your knowledge with this short quiz from CropLife International. Why not also take five minutes to read this interview about how “biotech is critical” with nutrition expert, Prof. Mark Haub. He’s Head of the Food, Nutrition, Dietetics and Health Department at Kansas State University.


EuropaBio is the European Association for Bioindustries. Our Secretary General is Joanna Dupont-Inglis. The Green Biotechnology Team are Beat Späth, Pedro Narro, Petra Kostolaniova, Coen Frederiks, and Chris Gallasch.

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