October 12, 2011
EU's delayed GM crops approval to affect food security
Europe's biotechnology sector has warned the European Commission that the slow rate of EU's consent for genetically modified (GM) crops is causing agricultural imports crucial to EU food security to be at risk.
According to Reuters, in a report to be presented to EU policymakers on Tuesday (Oct 11), biotech association EuropaBio said the speed of GM crop authorisations in Europe is slowing even as governments worldwide seek to step up the pace of their approvals.
"The EU authorisation process for GM products takes substantially longer than comparable systems, despite the fact that government processes around the world to assess the safety and impact of GM products are essentially the same," it said.
EU policy on GM crops has long been politically fraught, with a majority of consumers opposed to modified foods, but the bloc reliant on imports of about 30 million tonnes of GM animal feed each year, equivalent to 60 kilogrammes per person.
EuropaBio estimates the EU's approval process takes 15-20 months longer, on average, than in the three top global exporters of GM crops, the US, Brazil and Canada.
The number of GM crops awaiting approval in Europe has risen from about 50 at the end of 2007 to 72 today whereby 51 are for import and 21 are for cultivation. Based on current trends, EuropaBio said it expects more than 90 products to be pending approval by 2015.
Only two GM crops are currently approved for cultivation in Europe compared to 90 in the US and 28 in Brazil.
As well as blocking EU farmers from growing GM crops, the lack of approvals increases the risk of import disruptions due to contamination with unapproved GM varieties, the report said.
"It is a double whammy. We do not allow farmers to import these GM crops because they have not been approved here, and you cannot cultivate them either. We are putting ourselves into a corner," EuropaBio Secretary General Nathalie Moll said.
In its report, EuropaBio urges the European Commission, which oversees GM crop approvals, to set targets for reducing the backlog of applications.
The Commission said its own analysis of GM approvals found the delays were not as significant as stated by EuropaBio and that it gave extra priority to cases that could disrupt imports.
"The Commission pays particular attention to authorisations which can have a major impact on trade, and looks for efficiency gains whenever they are possible," EU health and consumer spokesman Frederic Vincent said.
EU environmental groups argue that pro-GM countries in other parts of the world cut corners in safety assessments, and that if anything the EU should beef up its approval system.
"In the US, GM crops are riddled with failures, so Europe should not be compared with a weaker system. EU laws are there to protect the public and environment from the risks of GM crops," said Mute Schimpf, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
Last month, US agribusiness giant Cargill and agricultural processor Archer Daniels Midland refused to accept grain that had not received EU regulatory approval, for fear that traces in shipments could shut off a key export market.
In a bid to avoid such disruptions to animal feed imports which totalled more than 50 million tonnes last year, worth some EUR15 billion (US$20.5 billion), the EU adopted rules in June allowing tiny amounts of unapproved GM crops in feed shipments.
While the so-called "low level presence" (LLP) rules will help, EuropaBio argues that their scope is applicable to feed, but not food and the threshold for unapproved GM material of just 0.1% will not prove an effective long-term solution.
The European Commission drafted rules last year to allow EU governments to decide themselves whether to grow or ban GM crops, which could speed up the process. But opposition from members including France, Germany and Britain and the biotech industry itself stalled talks on the plans.
The impasse coincided with a fall in the number of GM crop authorisations proposed by the Commission for approval by governments.
"The processing of approvals has stopped while Europe works on these political issues and there is no reason why these two things couldn't go in parallel," said EuropaBio's Moll.
Stefan Marcinowski, executive board member of German chemical giant BASF , said Europe's slow approach went beyond a threat to imports and a lack of EU cultivation.
"We are not starting any new projects that are exclusively dedicated to being marketed in Europe, despite having many crops which have a special European demand. It makes no sense with this uncertainty to make long-term investments into such projects."