CropWorld 2011: EU politicians urged to show leadership on GM crops
EU POLITICIANS have been urged to provide leadership on GM crops amid claims Europe’s refusal to embrace the technology is damaging farmers in the EU and Africa.
An international panel of scientists linked to the biotechnology industry lined up to vent their frustration at the EU’s stance on GM crops at the CropWorld Global 2011 conference.
Worldwide 150 GM crops have been approved for cultivation. Yet the EU, in the face of fierce public opposition and a strict regulatory regime, has approved just two – an insect resistant maize and a potato grown for starch - which represents a ‘huge disparity’, according to Dr Hans Kast, an adviser to biotech company BASF.
He blamed EU regulatory regime, which he said was making it impossible for biotech companies to produce new products.
“The politicians do not allow the consumers to have choice. We cannot approach the consumer with new products because there are no products.”
He welcomed the approach taken by the UK towards biotechnology, driven by findings of the Foresight report, but said the EU’s rejection of GM crops was forcing the biotech industry to target other markets.
“Which means at the end of the day EU farmers and EU consumers will suffer because farmers will not be able to compete with global agriculture and the consumer will pay too high a price for food,” he said.
The panellist were united in calling for ‘leadership’ and ‘courage’ on the issue from Europe’s political leaders.
US scientist Dr Roger Beachy, from the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre, said politicians needed to front up to the anti-GM ‘fear and lies’ pedalled by in the media over the past decade or so.
“Unless policy makers realise how the public has been misled it’s going to be very tough to change the situation,” he said.
Dr Felix M’mboyi, deputy director of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, said Europe’s stance was holding back African farmers.
While some GM crop strains, including transgenic drought tolerant maize, Bt maize and cotton and transgenic golden rice, cassava, bananas, cowpeas and sorghum, have been successfully tested in Africa and are ready for deployment in Africa, he said.
Yet many countries are reluctant to cultivate them because they fear the EU would enforce export bans and development agencies would withdraw support if farmers used the technology.
“This kind of hypocrisy and arrogance comes with the luxury of a full stomach. The developing world should be aloowed to make an informed choice. GM technology should not be ruled out,” he said.
In an earlier discussion, Hans Herren, director of the Millennium Institute, argued that GM crops were unnecessary, as they were ‘tackling the symptoms’, not the cause of the problem, and claimed the associated health risks were still unknown.