Hostility to GM putting EU in 'global slow lane' - report
THE growing influence of green lobbyists and anti-capitalists on European policymaking is condemning the EU the ‘global slow lane’ when it comes to biotechnology, an MP has warned.
George Freeman, chairman of the All Party Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, said ‘growing hostility’ to technologies like GM is already forcing some of the biggest biotechnology companies to abandon Europe as a market.
The UK and the rest of the EU are in danger of missing out on the ‘major opportunity’ presented by the revolution in the field of genomics to support farmers in boosting food production while also creating ‘huge new inward investment and export opportunities’, according to the Norfolk MP.
In a ‘Fresh Start Project’ report on the ‘EU Impact on Life Sciences’, Mr Freeman and think tank Open Europe’s Pawel Swidlicki call for a rethink in how biotech and other strands of Life Sciences are regulated bin the EU and say ‘serious consideration’ should given to repatriating this responsibility to the UK.
The reports says: “Growing hostility of the EU to biotech, reflected in the increasing tide of anti-biotech legislation, is having a damaging effect on the EU Bioscience Economy, and risks condemning the EU – and by extension the UK – to the global slow lane in biotechnology.”
German-based BASF and US biotech giant Monsanto have already announced their withdrawal from Europe in agricultural research and development and other companies like the UK’s Syngenta, which employs thousands and has a turnover of billions, will follow suit unless things change. This would have ‘dire consequences’ for the UK and European Life Science sector,” Mr Freeman’s report said.
The report, which covered biotechnology in the medical and agricultural sectors, identified the ‘growing influence in European policymaking of Green lobbyists and political parties with an agenda that is anti-corporate and anti-capitalist, and particularly hostile to biotech’ as one of the underlying problems.
In contrast it noted the ‘Insufficient influence or effective representation’ of the UK pioneers in these emerging fields. It also highlighted ‘inconsistent and differential implementation EU legislation’ across different member states.
It said repatriating the regulation of agricultural and food research to member states would’ allow countries that support the appliance of science and innovation, like the UK, to exist happily alongside, but not be undermined by, those like France and Germany which are increasingly hostile to it’.
Last week Mr Freeman outlined his vision agricultural technology in Europe at the Oxford Farming Conference, where, earlier, Defra Secretary Owen Paterson warned Europe risks becoming a ‘museum of world farming’ if it continues to ‘close its doors on GM crops’.
Julian Little, chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, said: “Political interference in science-based regulation at an EU-level is having a direct and negative impact on investment in UK agricultural R&D.”
“If no action is taken, EU farmers will be stuck with museum agriculture and we will become an increasing burden on global food production as our global competitors surge ahead.”
He said an estimated 17.3 million farmers were now growing 170.3 million hectares of GM crops globally. An estimated 3 trillion meals containing GM ingredients have been eaten around the world over the last 13 years ‘without a single substantiated case of ill-health’, Mr Little added.
But Tom MacMillan, the Soil Association director of innovation, said: “Europe’s caution on GM has served Britain’s farmers better than some like to admit.
“Reports show US farmers are now dropping behind their EU counterparts on yield, despite all the song and dance, and they’re having to worry about superweeds.
“The real challenge, where the UK, Europe and the US all need to do better, is to back hands-on innovation that works on-farm.”
10 recommendations to to support the EU biotech industry
The report proposed a package of ten measures to address the failings in the EU’s current approach to biotech regulation.
1. A clear statement of the EU’s policy regarding biotechnology and the bio-economy.
2. A shift away from the increasingly widely used risk-based ‘Precautionary Principle’.
3. An easier way of amending flawed EU legislation and/or ECJ rulings.
4. Ensuring more joined-up policy making at the EU level.
5. More accessible and transparent early consultation processes before legislation is drafted or proposed.
6. Better and more active UK Government and parliament engagement in the legislative process.
7. Greater freedoms for member states to determine their own policies with respect to Data Protection.
8. Greater freedoms for member states and different public healthcare systems to determine their own policies with respect to Early Access to medical innovations.
9. Reforming access to EU research grants.
AGRICULURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY AND GM
10. Greater flexibility for member states to ‘go it alone’ in designing appropriate regulatory frameworks for GM crops.
UK life science industries
- £50 billion turnover.
- Employ 167,500 people in over 4,500 companies.
Global biotech market
In 2012, the global market value of biotech/GM crops was $14.84bn.
This represented 23 per cent of the $64.62bn global crop protection market and 35 per cent of the $34bn global commercial seed market.
Total global GM crop area increased from 1.7m ha in 1996 to 170m ha in 2012.
The US accounts for 69.5m ha, followed by Brazil (36.6m ha), Argentina (23.9m ha), Canada (11.8m ha and India (10.8m ha).
In the EU, the main GM crop is maize with a total 129,071 hectares under cultivation, of which 90 per cent is grown in Spain.
17.3 million farmers grow biotech crops in 2012, an increase of 600,000 million compared with 2011.
Of these, over 90 per cent, or over 15 million, were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries.