Seed World

GM Crops in Europe: Are the Doors Finally Opening?


Recent approvals of genetically modified crops in Europe, along with pending legislative proposals by the European Commission, have left many industry experts predicting that 2010 will be a decisive year for the future of GMOs in Europe.

In farming terms, Europe is almost GM free. After long debates, the European Commission has accepted certain GM crops for importation and MON 810 Bt corn can be planted, but other approvals of several plant/trait combinations are currently stalled. However, several announcements this spring have hinted that the tide on GM crops in Europe might be turning.

In March, Commissioner John Dalli, who is in charge of GM legislation, announced he will make a proposal this summer to give member states more freedom of choice with regard to cultivation of GM crops on their national territories.

At the same time, the commission authorized the cultivation of the GM Amflora potato in the EU – the first approval of a GMO for cultivation since 1998. The Commission also adopted three decisions on the placing on the market of three GM maize products for food and feed uses but not for cultivation.

A Turning Point
While the approvals have been met with a mixed reaction, EuropaBio, whose mission is to promote an innovative and dynamic biotechnology-based industry in Europe, is one of the groups welcoming the decisions. “Certainly the approval of five products, some of which had been pending for over 10 years, is a welcome following of the rules on the part of the Commission,” says Nathalie Moll, Secretary General of EuropaBio. “The proposed so-called nationalization of cultivation approvals is a step away from the European approval system we are all used to and protect and in that sense, yes it is certainly a turning point.”

According to Alan Williams, Director of Verdant Partners based in Europe, in the industry itself there is a feeling that GM is likely to become accepted in Europe simply because of pressure from trade bodies – for example WTO – as well as the governments of exporting countries such as the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

However, Williams feels there is still a long road ahead. “Frankly, the political process is too unpredictable … in theory, an approval for cultivation means that relevant varieties can be planted anywhere in Europe, but national governments claim, on a somewhat dubious basis, that they have the right to prevent cultivation in their territories. To date, the Commission has avoided taking recalcitrant governments to court – which, in theory, it could do.”

Many in the industry are starting to weigh in, saying the E.U.’s reluctance to accept GMOs is costly. “Europe’s opposition to GMOs is a backlash against science,” said Willy De Greef, Past Secretary General for EuropaBio in a recent article in Time magazine.

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