Green Biotech rEvolutions Newsletter
Table of Contents

Guest Opinion

John Brennan 

Achieving the UN’s Zero Hunger Challenge


Dear Readers,

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a powerful blueprint for progress on our planet, whose population will grow to close to 10 billion people by 2050. Making significant progress towards the SDGs will require the best tools and policies to deliver results that matter. This includes enabling the application of biotechnology. 

The OECD defines biotechnology as “the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of materials by biological agents.” I prefer to say that it’s the application of biology for the benefit of humanity and the environment. Either way, what is clear is that sustainability is inherent in biotechnology, making it an obvious tool for reaching the SDGs.

The benefits of biotech are clear and measurable. It is estimated that the CO2 mitigation potential of industrial biotech will be equivalent to emissions from 490 million cars, by 2030, and red biotech is already reducing the burden of common diseases like cancer, but also rare diseases like cystic fibrosis. Agricultural biotechnology, including genetically modified crops, contributes to the first two goals on the UN’s list,  ‘zero hunger’ and ‘no poverty’, by enabling farmers to efficiently grow or import crops that are more nutritious or robust against changing climates and a host of diseases, pests and weeds. 

Although no single tool can realise the SDGs on its own, giving farmers access to innovation and technology can go a very long way. GM crops, as one example, are already benefiting millions of small farmers and their families in 19 developing countries and have effectively saved 174 million hectares of land from ploughing and cultivation. Europe also benefits greatly from GM crop imports, and GM maize cultivation in Spain has provided considerable benefits after almost 20 years of cultivation.

Much progress has already been made to battle against food poverty thanks in great deal to innovations in agriculture, which have enabled farmers to constantly improve the quantity and quality of their yields on increasingly scare land resources. Yet tomorrow’s farmers will be expected to be even more productive and environmentally friendly, and the latest hunger figure – 815 million people - shows that much more investment is needed.

Sustainable progress will continue to require science, innovation and technology. The revision of the EU’s Bioeconomy Strategy should lay the foundations for this whilst emphasising the synergies with a resource efficient circular economy.  So, by recognising and fostering innovation in biotechnology, Europe looks well placed to be a global leader in achieving the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals. 

Yours sincerely,
John Brennan

John Brennan has been the Secretary General of EuropaBio since June 2017. A science graduate from Dublin, Ireland, with additional post-graduate studies in quality control and environmental engineering, John has over 25 years’ experience both on the regulatory and the industrial sides of the healthcare industry. In his role at EuropaBio, John has worked towards continuing an open, fair and constructive dialogue with all players involved to make sure that society, including the biotech industry, thrives in a way that benefits all

“When we ignore or misinterpret science, we move backwards toward a time when irrationality and superstition prevailed.”

– Henry Miller (founding director of the United States’ FDA Office of Biotechnology) in Newsweek

“You can still burn the witch in Europe — if the witch is called Monsanto."

– Mark Lynas (British author, journalist and environmental activist) in Alliance for Science

“Calling into question the approval process only serves to undermine consumer confidence in the EU food safety system, and that’s to the benefit of no one.”

– ECPA’s Graeme Taylor in Politico

New position paper: Achieving the potential of genome editing

A new EuropaBio position paper launched this week calls upon European decision-makers to provide regulatory clarity and create inclusive, fact-based platforms for dialogue, information sharing and trust building to support consumer confidence in the area of genome editing. This would ensure that Europe can reap the great societal and economic benefits that genome editing can bring. Read more.

One step closer to legal clarity for plant breeding in Europe

The publication of the Advocate General of the EU’s Court of Justice non-binding opinion on organisms obtained by mutagenesis is an important step on the way to achieving needed clarity regarding the regulatory status of plants that have been developed using the latest methods of plant breeding. Read our take on the opinion, also covered in The Guardian.

17 countries complain about agri-trade barriers

“In order to face the challenge of producing more food in a safer and sustainable way, farmers must be able to access the full range of tools and technologies available for agricultural production. Yet, our farmers' choice of safe tools is increasingly undermined by regulatory barriers that lack a sufficient scientific justification, and this is having substantial negative impact on the production of, and trade in, safe food and agricultural products”. This is the start of a joint statement from 17 governments, which was circulated at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December. The statement also calls to strengthen the implementation and application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement). The signatory countries are from the Americas and Africa, as well as Japan – but notably not the EU or any European country. As noted in the press release published by CropLife International, “sound, science-based implementation of SPS measures can help facilitate trade and assure farmers of market access, which allows them to choose the innovative agricultural tools”, including biotech seeds that enable sustainable and stable food production systems. 

EU continues to lag behind in GM import authorisations

On 22 December, the European Commission authorised six GM products for import, bringing the total number of valid EU GM authorisations to 64. In each case, EFSA concluded that the crop in question is as safe as a conventional crop. Yet, for the eleven products approved in total in 2017 it took the EU an average of seven years and four months to approve them, compared to less than two years on average in most other parts of the world. Only the two renewals of previously assessed products showed that the EU risk assessment can be completed in comparable timelines (20 and 24 months respectively). Reflecting recent trends in import authorisations, several Member States voted against the science again in 2017, even more so than in previous years, regardless of European livestock farmers’ feed import needs, low public interest, and the scientific evidence confirming the safety of GM crops.

Comitology debate moves forward

The comitology proposal is one of President Juncker’s priorities for 2018. The European Parliament and Council are working in parallel on this sensitive dossier. The Council legal service is expected to adopt a legal opinion on the most controversial issues regarding the proposal, and the Parliament report should be ready by mid 2018. Following criticism of the proposed approach from many EU industry associations including EuropaBio, stakeholders are positioning themselves at national level. The German Chemical Association (VCI) has issued a position paper that defends a science-based decision making process and, and slams the Commission for having gone “a step too far”. The paper highlights that “legal certainty is ensured only if executive and administrative actors make such evidence-based decisions after careful examination of the facts” and advocates for practical solutions that will not require amending the horizontal regulation 182/ 2011.

French ‘state of food’ under fire

The French consultation on the General State of Food ended in December 2017 with the production of 33 sector plans proposed by professionals. As reported in our November newsletter, the French green biotech association AFBV was among the contributors, which concluded that "the challenges are so many and complex ... that we must quickly release our public and private research through the use of plant biotechnology."  Unfortunately, the consultation process has not convinced stakeholders and even some government officials that the government’s aim to fairly promote healthy, high-quality agriculture will be achieved. To the contrary, France recently announced the end of the use of glyphosate within three years, which follows previous unscientific bans on GM cultivation repeatedly declared illegal by the highest French and European courts.

Agri Outlook conference and future protein gap needs

The EU Agricultural Outlook conference gathered more than 600 experts to discuss the main challenges of EU agriculture. The first day of discussions focused on the upcoming CAP reform and the need of innovation to meet the challenges. On the second day the Commission presented the new outlook report (2017-2030) produced by the Joint Research Center (JRC). The report covers crop markets over the next 10 years and acknowledges the EU need to continue importing soybeans & soymeal from third Countries. The EU is currently deciding how to face its protein deficit and the report clearly illustrates that trade is one of the solutions rather than a problem in itself. The outlook exercise underlines that “driven by a favorable policy environment, protein crops have reached a record production in 2017-2018”, adding that “import prices for soya beans and soymeal  are projected below the recent high levels and this will stimulate imports further”. At global level soya bean production is expected to expand considerably (+ 28%) by 2030 to reach 434 million tonnes.

Short Trade & Approvals News

  • Trump’s agriculture department reverses course on biotech rules - Science

Spain: Low-gluten wheat developed with gene editing

A low-gluten strain of wheat that could benefit people with coeliac disease has been created by a team of scientists in Spain, the Independent reports. “We show that CRISPR/Cas9 technology can be used to precisely and efficiently reduce the amount of α-gliadins in the seed kernel, providing bread and durum wheat lines with reduced immunoreactivity for gluten intolerant consumers,” the scientists wrote when they published their findings in the Plant Biotechnology journal.

Will the EU allow new biotech tools?

Conferences in Ireland and Spain highlighted fears that the EU may stop innovation in plant breeding. National and international experts discussed genome editing on 22 November in Madrid, and highlighted concerns surrounding European regulation that threatens to halt innovation in plant breeding if resulting seeds are subject to the same legislation as GMOs. The conference was organised by the national seed association (ANOVE) and ANTAMA, and one of the speakers was ESA’s Petra Jorasch. Read more here (in Spanish). Speakers at the Irish Tillage and Land Use Society’s winter conference in December noted increasing challenges for plant protection in the context of reduced access to chemical actives. In addition to the rising importance of biologicals, new plant breeding tools are increasingly needed to face these challenges. Dr. Thomas McLoughlin, formerly responsible for GMO legislation at the Irish EPA, presented genetic solutions in agriculture and asked if they will be allowed in the EU. The full report and links to all presentations will be made available on the ITLUS website. The Court of Justice of the EU is expected to rule a related case around the middle of 2018. 

Remove red tape and save chemicals, say the Dutch 

The project ‘Green Crop Protection’, which is being financed by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, hopes to develop chemical-independent agricultural systems. According to the researchers of Wageningen University, new plant breeding methods are essential to reach that goal. Read more in Dutch here. The contribution of cis-genesis and CRISPR-cas to the development of pathogen resistant crops that can contribute to sustainable agriculture was highlighted in Nieuwe Oogst (in Dutch). The article zooms in on restrictive European GMO regulations and the ambition of the Dutch government to remove European red tape on the use of these techniques and consider them as non-GMOs.  

New Polish prime minister to support ag innovation? 

Poland's new prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki said that the government needs to focus on the economy and improve Poland's standing in the European Union and with other foreign nations. Morawiecki is expected to give his support for innovation in agriculture, pending the final confirmation of his cabinet. Learn more here (in Polish). 


This new blog started nine months ago by Anna Meldolesi, one of the most reputed life science journalists in Italy, provides news and views from the frontier of genome editing in both Italian and English. Anna’s declared intention is to showcase “chronicles from the New Biotech Age”. Widely appreciated by the public, the blog features more than 100 posts in Italian and 70 in English. 

German plant breeding innovation in the spotlight

Following a public hearing held last autumn (see September 2017 rEvolutions), the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has published a revised report on new breeding innovation. The report still confirms that “Genome Editing (…) represents a clear improvement in precision, efficiency and controllability” of breeding. As part of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)-funded ELSA research network "Genome Editing in Agriculture", the TTN Institute at University of Munich (LMU) is currently working on related ethical questions. The  summarising analysis  and detailed evaluation can be found here (in German).   As reported in September, a short video on Crispr-Cas provides different perspectives on its potential for agriculture and pending assessment of whether it is genetic engineering or not. 

Short Innovation & IP News

  • Biotech improved golden potatoes contain higher levels of vitamins A and E - ISAAA
  • EU and Gates Foundation pledge €500 million for innovations in agriculture - EurActiv
  • To protect vineyards from pests and reduce pesticide use, CRISPR could be the answer – Genetic Literacy

Evidence-based decisions can combat “post-truth” world

Following the 5 year renewal of glyphosate in December, questions surrounding the role of science in decision making in the EU remain. According to ECPA’s Graeme Taylor, calling into question the approval process of safety assessed products “only serves to undermine consumer confidence in the EU food safety system”. David Zaruk (the ‘Risk Monger’) asserts that destroying the EU regulatory process is exactly one of the things the anti-glyphosate ‘zealots’ really wanted.

Campaigning against bacon?

Mark Lynas argues that groups like Greenpeace, Avaaz, Corporate Europe Observatory, and Pesticide Action Network, would be campaigning about completely different things if their advocacy focused on where the actual risks to human health lie. True environmentalists would be wise to think twice before joining the anti-science flock.

Killer of millions gaining popularity 

The Soviet Era's deadliest scientist is regaining popularity in Russia, according to the Atlantic. Trofim Lysenko, a biologist, condemned perhaps millions of people to starvation through bogus agricultural research. He denied that genes existed, but he was put in charge of Soviet agriculture in the 1930s. “There’s something depressingly familiar about the Lysenko affair, since ideology perverts science in the Western world as well”.

Social media key for biotech communications 

A conference organised by ANTAMA in Madrid on 12 December, attended by experts in digital communication, discussed the challenges, opportunities and future trends of scientific dissemination in social networks. Read more about the event 'Communicating Science in Social Networks' here (in Spanish).

Vandals turn to conventional crops 

On December 18, 2017, a group of “GMO volunteer mowers” carried out a seed sowing in the middle of two wheat trials in France to denounce the use of new plant breeding techniques. 40 hectares and two years of research are lost because of this vandalism, according to Limagrain, which denies the use of new techniques in the field because their status is still not clear in the EU. Field destructions have been a familiar sight in France and elsewhere in Europe, and activists have also threatened and attacked scientists and EFSA. Read more here

Short Science & Safety News 

  • Fake News Is Bad Enough. But Fake Science Is Even More Dangerous - Newsweek
  • Bayer to grant access to product safety studies to rebuild public trust – Euractiv 
  • Behind the science: see for yourself - Politico
  • Natural GMOs: the Sweet Potato – Biology fortified
  • Issue Statement: Food and Feed Safety of GE Crops - Society of Toxicology 
  • Nigeria Pursuing GMO Public Education Campaign – Alliance For Science
  • Speed breeding technique sows seeds of new green revolution – Science Daily
  • World’s first Panama disease-resistant Cavendish Bananas - Wageningen

Countries to opt-in rather than opt-out? 

The article “Why the European Union needs a national GMO opt-in mechanism” was published in by Dennis Eriksson, together with several other scientists from institutions across the EU. The authors argue in favour of an opt-in scheme, which would allow each country to decide in cultivation, once EFSA confirms product safety. They recall the Member State votes on three GM maize products for cultivation in early 2017, which were the first such votes after the ‘cultivation opt-out’ mechanism came into existence. Most countries had not significantly changed their voting behaviour, and nine months on from this final vote, the Commission still has not signed off the authorisations. The three products have been safely grown in numerous countries for the last 15-20 years. They were first submitted for EU approval in 1995, 1996 and 2001, and over these years, EFSA repeatedly concluded that they are as safe as conventional maize crops.  EuropaBio continues to firmly oppose the opt-out scheme, and as expected, it did not unblock the dysfunctional authorisation system for cultivation. EuropaBio remains convinced that this license to ban safe GM crops is a stop sign for innovation. In the last 6 years, companies have withdrawn most of the cultivation applications from the system and not submitted any new applications, and GMO field trials in the EU decreased by over 90%, to under 10 – a level surpassed by several individual African countries.

GM crops still increasing

According to the Financial Times GM crops are ‘continuing to spread across the world’s agricultural land’. 2015 saw a 3 per cent increase in GM crops hectarage. Referring to the PG Economics report, more than 26 billion kg of CO2 would have been emitted without GM crops in 2015, confirming environmental as well as economic benefits. Global GM crop cultivation is tracked annually on the ISAAA website.

Europeans ‘hinder’ GM solutions in Africa

Genetic engineering could help crops in Africa to become more drought resistant in areas where millions of people are currently facing starvation and famine. As the population continues to grow, access to new technologies could help to fight off pests and diseases, achieve improved food security and increase economic prosperity. But according to Matt Ridley in The Times, ‘European environmentalists’, including Greenpeace, are hindering farmer-access to GM crops across Africa. See also the related articles “African farmers blocked from using life-saving GMO bananas by European activists”, “How anti-GMO activists are blocking humanitarian biofortification in Africa and Asia”, and “African farming sacrificed to European green politics”. 

Miracle bread available soon?

Wheat plants offering three times as much fiber, teff that stands up straight instead of drooping and losing seeds, increased yields, salt- and drought-tolerant crops, and healthier oils: In this article, Antonio Regalado explains how companies like Calyxt are using gene editing to give plants desirable traits. But the future of this technology and derived products, including their availability to farmers and consumers, will depend on definitions and the developing legal framework.

Short Cultivation & Benefits News 

  • GM crops take the line of least resistance in their global spread – Financial Times 
  • Climate change fighting plants: GM crops could trap half of human CO2 emissions in soil – Genetic Literacy
  • Nigeria has two GMO crops on track for 2018 – Alliance for Science
  • Burkina Faso loses rank as top African producer after dropping GMO cotton – Alliance for Science

Innovation improves resource efficiency


The Agri-Food Chain Coalition has been calling on the EU institutions to ensure innovation is at the heart of EU agri-food policy making, and to provide mechanisms fostering growth, investment, and innovation. At an event held in late November, MEP Czeslaw Adam Siekierski, Chair of the Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, said that in order to meet society’s increasing demands, “it is incumbent upon policymakers to create an environment where new technologies and innovation are embraced”.  Read more here.

Iden biotechnology wins SME award 

Agricultural biotech was in the spotlight at the 8th edition of EuropaBio’s Most Innovative European Biotech SME Awards in late November at the European Parliament in Brussels. Iden Biotechnology, a Spanish company, won one of the three top awards for developing biotech products and integrated solutions for crop yield and quality enhancement, including agrobiological products (e.g. plant biostimulants and biopesticides), and more productive crop varieties. Their products are part of the general industry of farm inputs and, within that, the broad sectors of seeds and crop protection. Read more here.

Green G-Nome learns Cyrillic

The Green G-Nome’s guide to GM crops and policies in the EU, now published in 10 languages and counting, is newly available in Romanian and also in Cyrillic for our Bulgarian readers. Click here for more information in English, Polish, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, and Japanese. Want to know more in a minute, check out this video, in case you missed it in our last edition.

Biotech timeline now also available in Spanish!

Biotechnology has been used for thousands of years! From making food such as bread and cheese to preserving dairy products and fermenting beer, biotechnology has helped society to evolve. Our timeline is now available in Spanish, English, and in Portuguese! If you missed it, click on the links or image!

EuropaBio is the European Association for Bioindustries. Our Secretary General is John Brennan. The Green Biotechnology Team are Beat Späth, Pedro Narro, Petra Kostolaniova, Violeta Georgieva, and Chris Gallasch.

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