Green Biotech rEvolutions Newsletter
March 2016
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Guest Opinion


Politics never excuses maladministration

Darren Abrahams, Partner, Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Dear Readers,
Almost two years ago I had the honour to write the first Guest Opinion in Green Biotech rEvolutions. I lamented how EU decision makers ignore the legal framework from GMO authorisations. However, I also welcomed the firm rejection by the Court of Justice of a political approach to decision making. In the intervening period, GM policy has taken a significant leap forward. This is thanks to European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, having found that European Commission’s delays in authorisation procedures for import and processing of GM food and feed constituted “systemic” maladministration.

Seven months after the coalition of European Industry Trade Associations launched their complaint, the Commission dealt with all of the pending applications listed in the complaint – perhaps anticipating, and trying to avoid, the Ombudsman’s highly critical remarks. Ms. O’Reilly’s decision sends an unavoidable message to public authorities - the Commission, EFSA, Member States and the European Parliament - that maladministration will not be tolerated.

However, there are voices in the European Parliament who seem to want to drag us back to a de facto moratorium. It is very clear from the Ombudsman’s decision that this is not a lawful option. The Ombudsman found (1) that the Commission’s delays constituted maladministration, and (2) underlined its obligation to act within “a reasonable time” under Article 41(1) of EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Article 17 of her Code of Good Administrative Behaviour.

While the Parliament has rejected the Commission’s proposal for nationalisation of import and processing of GM food and feed, the Ombudsman was very clear that the Commission still has to “comply with existing legal requirements regarding the timescales for dealing with applications for the authorization”.

A political impasse is not a legitimate basis for a de facto moratorium. There is no legitimate legal basis provided by the Parliament for reverting to the delays of the past. Indeed, after the Ombudsman’s decision such an approach would potentially expose the EU to multiple damages actions for tortious liability (under Article 340(2) TFEU). We must all hope this will not be necessary.

Yours sincerely,
Darren Abrahams, Partner, Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Quotes of the Month
“The wind of progress is going to blow elsewhere. (…) We could have been the first, but we will be the last”
François Fillon, former French Prime Minister (referring to GMO research), in his book “Faire”, Sept. 2015

“We are in the front line and fight to ensure that these techniques be classified differently from the old transgenic GMOs”
Maurizio Martina, Italian Agriculture Minister Corriere della Sera,
(referring to new plant breeding techniques) 3 Feb 2016

 “Farmers are not fools. If they did not like GM crops, they would not buy the seeds. They do so voluntarily year after year, despite the extra cost
Stuart Agnew MEP (UK, EFDD), Parliament Magazine, 22 Feb 2016
European & International News
European Ombudsman on GMOs
Clear Maladministration by the Commission
On 19 January, the European Ombudsman published her decision regarding the European Commission’s delays in the authorisation of applications for GM food and feed. EuropaBio, COCERAL and FEFAC had submitted a joint complaint in 2014. The decision recognises that the Commission's delays in processing authorisation dossiers were not justified, reflected a systemic problem and constituted maladministration on the part of the Commission (for all 20 applications in the scope of the complaint between 2012 and 2014, both when putting dossiers to Standing Committee vote and after Appeal Committee). The Ombudsman did not accept any of the justifications presented by the Commission and called on it to comply with its legal obligations. The Ombudsman’s findings point a finger at the Commission whose raison d'être is to design and implement sound legal measures. “We welcome the Ombudsman’s decision and the recognition that political difficulties cannot justify maladministration. It is encouraging to see that in the last few months the Commission has improved its timelines and we very much look forward to the Commission approving products in compliance with its legal obligations,” commented Nathalie Moll, EuropaBio Secretary General. Read more in the press release and briefing note as well as in the February edition of the Parliament Magazine (p. 30).

EP Objects to 3 GM Soybean Authorisations:
Do MEPs Want the Commission to Break the Law?

In early February the European Parliament adopted three objections to import authorisations for GM soy. These objections are non-binding for the Commission, and DG SANTE strongly defended the procedure taken in processing the dossiers: “the Commission is required by the GMO legal framework to adopt a decision on the application”. The Commission confirmed that it is legally obliged to put safety assessed products to the vote and to make authorisation decisions in due time. It is important that the Commission continues to stand up for its own approval system and helps inform the public. The European Parliament has risen to this challenge already once, when on 28 October 2015, MEPs clearly rejected a proposed moratorium on new GMO authorisations, along with the rejection of the Commission’s proposal to allow national bans on the use of safe, EU-approved (imported) GM products. Read more in our article in the February edition of the Parliament Magazine (p. 30).

 FAO Chief at Biotech Symposium:
“Agroecology & Biotech Can Live Together”
In February, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) hosted a symposium on agricultural biotechnologies, with about 500 participants. “We cannot lose sight that biotechnologies, knowledge and innovation must be available, accessible and applicable to family farmers,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva at the opening, and added: “We must find the means to remove the barriers that prevent their availability to family farmers.” In his closing statement, he said: "We have unlocked the door to discuss and analyse how agroecology and biotechnology can live together”, and added: “FAO will not shy away from any issue relevant to ending hunger, improving nutrition and sustainable agriculture”. The same week and also in Rome, CropLife International officially launched the ‘Table for Twenty’ initiative to celebrate 20 years of GMO cultivation and agricultural innovation.   follow @tablefortwenty on Twitter.

OECD Report
Green Biotech Helps Foster Green Growth

The new OECD report “Farm Management Practices to Foster Green Growth” highlights that the application of modern biotechnology in agriculture has resulted in: net economic benefit to farmers through reduced pesticide costs, more flexible and less labour-intensive weed management, and the facilitation of zero-tillage cropping systems; reduced GHGs and reduced release of toxic active ingredients into the environment; reduced pressure on land resources thereby reducing pressure on natural habitats from agricultural land-use; major employment effects in the up and down-stream sectors; and lowered prices for major agricultural commodities.” Elsewhere, the report highlights the very low uptake of conservation agriculture in the EU compared to GMO cultivating countries (no-till practices being facilitated by herbicide tolerant GM crops), and the lower yields and often higher input costs” of organic agriculture, and its mixed effects on GHG emissions.
Think Tank Report
How  Anti-GM Damages Developing Countries
A new report from US based think tank ITIF (Information Technology and Innovation Foundation) shows how anti-GMO activists, mostly in the EU, have erected barriers to agricultural biotech innovation that could cost the poorest nations up to $ 1.5 Trillion in foregone economic benefits through 2050. The report documents how anti-GMO rules and policies work to perpetuate underdevelopment and poverty in developing economies. “Experience and data show that GM crops provide significant benefits for farmers, and restrictions on biotech crops slow the growth of agriculture productivity” concludes the report.
From the Member States
Germany: New Techniques Not GMOs
Recently published minutes of a meeting of the German competent authority’s (BfR) Commission for genetically modified Food and Feed conclude that new technologies such as genome editing do not result in GMOs according to regulation 2001/18/EG. Other points addressed included the GRACE project and RNAi technology.
Read more
 Germany: Farmers Demo For Modern Agri
The annual Green Week in Berlin (a major ag and food fair) is a magnet for demonstrators. This year, the number of protestors who do not accept the demonization of modern agriculture almost doubled to about 1500. Under the motto “wir machen Euch satt” (we feed you), they demand a factual discussion on agriculture, free of prejudice and ideology.

Demonstrators in Berlin: “Information instead if ideology"
  Germany: Possibilities of Synthetic Biology
On 20 January the Office for Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag published the final report on the “Possibilities of Synthetic Biology”. It included an analysis of scientific and technological aspects and addressed questions related to ethics, security, intellectual property, regulation, as well as public perception and communication of opportunities and risks. Read the press release here.

Italy: Falsified Anti-GMO Research
Italian and international news outlets reported that research papers on the “dangers” of GM feed, published between 2006 and 2010 by the Veterinary Department of Naples University, were falsified by the authors. The results have been frequently quoted by GMO opponents and used in a recent hearing on GMOs in the Italian Senate. An investigation triggered by Senator Elena Cattaneo’s concerns revealed manipulation of data and images, leading to a scientific backlash and the retraction of some of the studies.

  Italy: Government Supports Biotech
The Italian Ministry of Agriculture recently launched a € 21 million 3-year research programme to improve the most relevant crops for Italian agriculture with “sustainable biotechnology” techniques like genome editing or cisgenesis. The government stressed the importance of treating these techniques differently from GMOs. In an article in Corriere della Sera, Ag Minister Maurizio Martina explained the context which includes “overcoming ideological barriers”, and he voiced his regret that the GMO debate “has already hampered our country too much in its ability to make progress”.

Maurizio Martina, Italian Agriculture Minister

  Italy: RAI Programme - Scientific Community On GMOs
On 28 February, RAI TV programme Madre Terra revealed a strong consensus among the Italian scientific community in defence of GMO research and field trials. “There is a lack of scientific culture in our politicians” highlighted Prof. Silverio Sansavini. Italian farmers (Confagricoltura) pointed out the benefits of using GMOs in order to reduce water, soil and energy consumption, and Lea Pallaroni, Secretary General of Assalzoo (Italian Feed Industry) underlined the high national dependency on imported GM soybean of feed Italian livestock: “GMOs are a reality in the Italian market despite the ban on cultivation and barriers to public research”. Senator Elena Cattaneo regrets that “Italy is the last country in agriculture innovation”. These same points were repeated by former Commissioner and Italian Minister Emma Bonino in Rome on March 1st as she received the annual Assobiotec award.

Portugal: Parliament Rejects GMO Ban
At the beginning of the year the newly elected Portuguese Parliament considered potential bans on cultivation and import of GMOs presented by left wing government coalition parties (BE, PEV, PCP and PAN parties). On 22 January the Parliament clearly rejected the 4 proposals meaning that both cultivation and imports of EU-authorised GM products will continue in Portugal. Watch more here and here on the parliamentary TV channel.
Portugal: Common Sense or Hypocrisy?
In an article published in the Portuguese magazine Semanario Agrovida, Jaime Piçarra (secretary-general of the Portuguese Animal Feed Industry Association IACA) defends the role that GMOs can play to boost the competiveness and sustainability of the agricultural sector. The author analyses the situation in Portugal and welcomes the rejection by the Parliament of proposals to ban cultivation and imports of GM products at national level. Piçarra supports a debate based on science rather than emotional grounds and calls on society to fight against the hypocrisy of political debates, which are detached from science, research and innovation. Belgium: VIB on EU Decision Making
VIB, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology, complained on 24 February in a press release that “EU regulations impede introduction of GMO trees in Europe”. They criticized the risk assessment phase as “difficult to predict”, as demanding “a huge amount of time and money” and request “more clarity on the data required”. They complain that “After the risk analysis and a scientific conclusion from EFSA, it is still by no means certain that a European approval will follow”. They conclude by stating that “the decision process is politicized and dogmatic and the environment itself could end up being the biggest victim of this”.

Netherlands: “Missing the Boat” on New Techniques
On 13 February, scientists highlighted in ‘Boerderij’ and ‘Volkskrant’the opportunities of gene-editing in plant breeding for the sustainable production of healthy and nutritious food. To fully exploit these opportunities, the authors called for a rethink of our regulatory system. They questioned why we may regulate directed and precise mutagenesis much more strictly than classical mutagenesis.
Norway: GMO-Phobia
Professor Audun Helge Nerland from the University of Bergen wrote an article in favour of GMOs in Bergens Tidende, a major Norwegian newspaper. He highlighted the precision and efficiency of GM technology and encouraged politicians to make knowledge-based decisions regarding GMOs.

UK: Minister Eustice: Decisions Must Be Based on Science
Speaking at the John Innes Institute, Food and Farming Minister George Eustice called for regulatory decisions on new plant breeding techniques to be based on science rather than the whims of EU lawyers. “I hope the Commission is going to take a sensible approach and these new techniques are not going to be emasculated in the way GM crops have been. We must get the regulatory approach right,” said Eustice.

George Eustice, UK food and farming minister

  UK: Tom Heap Addresses the Issues around GM Crops
The presenter of BBC’s Countryfile, Tom Heap, discussed the public’s attitude to developments in food science and GM crops as he delivered the annual Society of Food Hygiene and Technology lecture. He remarked that people are nervous of technology in food, despite the fact that we welcome it in ‘just about every part of our lives.’

  UK: Inquiry Into UK Science
The Lords Science and Technology Committee took further evidence for their inquiry into the relationship between EU membership and the effectiveness of UK Science in late January. Witnesses included Dr David Hughes, Global Head of Technology at Syngenta; and Steve Bates, CEO of the BioIndustry Association. Hughes argued that for agricultural technology businesses, EU regulations are not fit for purpose as they are “unscientific”. He argued regulation is often based on the assumption that natural things are safe and synthetic things are harmful. Poland: Softer Stance on Imports     
In 2006, Poland adopted a law prohibiting the production, placing on the market and use of GM animal feed. The entry into force of the prohibition was postponed to 1 January 2017. In the meantime, the Commission referred Poland to the EU Court of Justice for failing to respect the authorisation procedure. The new Polish government will soon have to decide on the next move. At a meeting of the Parliament’s ag committee in January, vice ag minister Ewa Lech recognised Poland’s dependency on imported proteins and the difficulties an import ban could cause for Polish farmers. Watch interviews with Prof. Zięba from the Chamber of Commerce, A. Tański, Presidenf of the Grain and Feed Chamber and R. Paczkowski, President of the Poultry Council. Romania: Farmers Demand GM Soya
I sincerely don’t understand why we can’t produce GM soybean […]. We import it from other countries, so we use it and I don’t see why we can’t also cultivate it,” said Emil Dumitru, president of the National Farmers Federation Pro Agro. At the same event held in February in Bucharest, Romanian farmers publicly demanded the necessary approvals for GM soya bean cultivation. 85% of soya currently used in Romania is imported, mainly from South and North America, where GM technology adoption is over 90%. The benefits of GM plants for agriculture were also endorsed by Laurențiu Baciu, president of the League of Ag Producers Associations of Romania (LAPAR), while the Ag Minister recognised that producers based outside Europe are spared the extremely difficult process of introducing GMOs on their markets. Read more here and here.
Science & Miscellaneous
Economic Impacts of Regulatory Delays
The article ‘The Economic Impacts of Regulatory Delays on Trade and Innovation’ by Kalaitzandonakes et al, published in the Journal of World Trade, assesses the economic impact of regulatory decisions on innovation and trade relations. It concludes that biotech regulatory asynchronies (i. e. for example when pre market authorisations for import take much longer in the EU than authorisations for cultivation of the same product in the exporting country) can have a serious impact on social welfare. A three year delay in the adoption of new biotech crop varieties significantly decreases overall welfare in agriculture markets. Consumers in major importing countries which delay imports pay a particularly high price in terms of foregone benefits.
Massive Costs of Avoiding GM Feed
A substitution of (GM) soy imports would imply massive immediate cost increases of nearly € 30 billion for the EU-28, and could replace cereal crops which are grown more (eco-) efficiently in Europe, argues Michael Schmitz from Giessen University. China imports 63% of globally traded soy, and the EU is the second largest importer. Currently, the EU’s demand for soy meal is three times as large as the available global non GM soy meal production. According to the author, the EU’s “protein gap” is not a macro-economic problem, but merely a consequence of international division of labour, with significant benefits for all involved parties. The article in German language is available here.
Scare-Studies De-Bunked
In their paper entitled “Published GMO studies find no evidence of harm (…)” (Critical Reviews in Biotechnology), Panchin et al argue that “the totality of the evidence should be taken into account when drawing conclusions on GMO safety, instead of far-fetched evidence from single studies with a high risk of bias.” They performed a statistical reanalysis and review of experimental data presented in some controversial (anti-GMO) studies. “Unfortunately, it takes just a single article claiming a mild difference between GM and non-GM products to stir the public debate and cause a long-lasting hysteria. Though the article by Seralini was retracted, it still keeps being cited by the media”.

Eliminating GMOs Would Harm Environment
What would happen if genetically modified crops were banned from U.S. farm fields? A team at Purdue University predict yield declines of 11.2 per cent on average, requiring 102,000 additional hectares of land to be converted to cropland. The resulting land use change would lead to a significant boost in greenhouse gas emissions. “If you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, an important tool to do that is with GMO traits," stated Prof Wally Tyner.

More Quality Traits and Specialty Crops
The EU Commission’s Joint Research Centre has published an analysis of the global pipeline for GM crops to 2020 in Nature. The number of GM traits that are being developed has steeply increased with increased focus on quality traits, such as bio-fortified food and industrial applications and specialty crops such as bean, rice, potatoes and sugarcane. The authors note that economic, market and regulatory considerations act as barriers and can therefore reduce the number of R&D products that eventually become commercial. Read more here (EC) here (ISAAA) and here (Croplife International).
Costly Precaution
A recent study by Zilberman et al analysed the costs of delaying the introduction of GM crops on the market. These costs include several million eye sights lost (in the case of Golden Rice), and the cost of a one-year delay in approval of the technology ranges from $27 to $82 billion.

- What fruit and vegetables SHOULD look like (wild ancestor crops were very different) (Daily Mail)
- Video: What is the Precautionary Principle, and is it good or bad? (Risk Bites)
- Government funds video to help farmers combat anti-GMO movement (CBC News)
- Bill Gates: GMOs Will End Starvation in Africa (video from the Wall Street Journal)
- GM food is essential to address malnourishment issue: Nobel laureate (The Hindu)
- Zimbabwe says no to GM food despite food shortages (News 24)
- Syngenta Agrees to $43 Billion ChemChina Takeover (Wall Street Journal)
- Food for Thought (Facebook page)
EuropaBio Informs
Read it in Your Own Language
GMO Answers was launched in July 2013 in the US to answer consumers’ questions about GMOs. Several microsites have now been launched, including in Spanish and Portuguese. They include infographics, fact sheets, myth busters and Q&As. In addition, French materials are also available for download. EuropaBio materials in languages other than English include our Pocket Guide (EN, ES, IT, FR, DE, PL, RO) and  our infographic “GMO: do we judge before we know?” (EN, PT, IT, FR).
Top 20 Biotech Triumphs
Celebrating 20 years of GMO cultivation, Croplife International has published 20 remarkable facts about biotech: Did you know that biotech has contributed US$133.5 billion to global farm incomes and that most farmers growing GMOs are smallholders in developing countries?

Europe as a Centre for Museum Agriculture?
Dr. Julian Little, former Chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, asks whether the European Commission and MEPs really want innovation in agriculture, or if they are happy for the rest of the world to be describing Europe as a museum of agriculture. Read the op-ed on Trade Talk blog and join the debate on @GrowingVoicesEU using #GMtrade!
EuropaBio on Intellectual Property
If you are interested in the breeders’ rights and patents discussion, check out our position papers, our IP brochure and the resources on IP52.
Bayer CropScience CEO on TradeTalks
“Organic farms alone cannot feed the world”, writes Liam Condon, CEO of Bayer CropScience. Do not miss out on the articles from EuropaBio’s Trade Talk blog and join the debate on @GrowingVoicesEU!

Need to Implement Approval System
Check out EuropaBio’s latest articles in the Parliament Magazine (p. 30) and in European Seed, focusing the need on implementing the existing EU system for GMO import approvals.
Check your Facts on GMO Imports
Do you want to know how your Member State votes on the approval of safe GMOs for import, and how many GMO soybeans your country imports? Did you know that the soy beans we import every year weigh about as much as all EU citizens? Check out our infographics here.

Selection For Your Agenda


EuropaBio is the European Association for Bioindustries. Our Secretary General is Nathalie Moll. The Green Biotechnology Team are Beat Späth, Pedro Narro, Delphine Carron  and Violeta Georgieva. For more information and our contact details, please check
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