Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





April 1, 2004


Australian Loss of Innovation; Europe Votes for Paralysis; GM Maize to Double in SA; Jennifer Thomson; IFPRI Report


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - April 2, 2004:

* Bracks Turns His Back On Future
* 4 States in 5 Days ... a Loss for Innovation
* Too little and too late
* Europe's voters opt for paralysis and stagnation
* GMO maize crops set to grow
* Local GM maize set to double
* UCT Professor Savours Taste of Scientific Success
* Re: Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation
* Re: smarter than nature
* EU GM labyrinth

Bracks Turns His Back On Future

- Australian Financial Review, April 1, 2004

State governments continue to capitulate to green hysteria over genetically modified crops by agreeing to multi-year moratoriums against commercial planting of GM canola. They don't put it like that, of course. Western Australia's Premier, Geoff Gallop, deployed the fig leaf of "market acceptance concerns" nothing to do with government to justify his state's ban two weeks ago. And Victoria's Premier, Steve Bracks, cited equally spurious economic worries when he announced a four-year moratorium on commercial production of GM canola.

Tasmania is another state to shut itself out of the development phase of this challenging technology by imposing a multi-year ban. But Victoria is the most curious case. It fancies itself as a leader in biotechnology and other sunrise industries, and spends millions of dollars of taxpayers' money subsidising research in order to maintain its edge against challenges from Queensland and NSW. Queensland has given the go ahead to commercial planting; NSW has been trialling GM canola and will make its mind up shortly; and both have been growing GM cotton source of cottonseed oil since 2001.

The arguments against GM have been falling over rapidly. No one takes seriously the human safety concerns implicit in the anti-GM lobby's "Frankenfoods" label. And the economic concerns were obliterated by a report prepared for the Victorian government by ACIL Tasman . GM crops have been adopted by our major rivals in the grains industries Canada, the United States and Argentina with due care and process. A country that relies on grains for a chunk of export income needs more compelling reasons than those presented to date to turn its back on GM. The same goes for states like Victoria and WA, which risk leaving the field open to Queensland and possibly NSW.

Of course some of Australia's rural lobbies are sensitive to the hysteria in Europe and the Middle East. AWB Ltd , accounting for $4 billion in wheat exports, reckons about a third of its customers have raised issues about GM contamination. The Barley Board says its Middle East and Japanese customers are resisting and that it can't afford not to give them what they want. But they both advocate "co-existence" trials of supply chains to segregate GM and non-GM grains because they want to be prepared for when GM becomes a reality.

The Bracks government clutched at an independent report by Peter Lloyd , an economist. But Professor Lloyd's report advised only against unconditional release of GM canola, on the grounds of uncertain benefits and the risks to conventional producers of being denied legal remedies and insurance if GM canola turns up in their crops. He saw little reason to fear loss of markets as long as a reliable segregation system could be put in place.

Professor Lloyd, like the Wheat Board, recommended a series of co-existence trials beginning this year to allow production, to the point of export, of GM and non-GM canola, without cross-contamination. And if the final decision were to give the GM product the go ahead, he said it should be permanent and unrestricted in area.

ACIL Tasman went further, reporting that though there was some sensitivity to GM crops there was little or no evidence of price discrimination or market access problems in Australia's key markets. The only market that might deny access, Europe, was at best an opportunistic outlet for Australia.

The benefits of GM crops are obvious; they improve yields and nutritional value, and allow reduced use of pesticides. Last year Robert Norton of the University of Melbourne predicted that farmers switching to GM canola would increase their yield from 1.27 tonnes per hectare to 1.38 tonnes. The Bracks government has barely acknowledged this. It will look only at tightly controlled trials on a case-by-case basis with the main objective of protecting Victoria's non-GM status. This tail-wags-dog Luddism is at odds with where the Bracks government likes to think it's headed. Only this week a government press release from the Minister for Innovation on a different subject talked about being at the forefront of genomic research.

AusBiotech , an industry association, complains its members have invested millions of dollars in Victoria and will have no incentive to invest further if they can't commercialise their products. It points to a European study which showed 61 per cent of the private sector cancelled R&D projects in biotechnology as a result of GM moratoriums.

A country with a large grains industry can't afford to ignore promising new crop technologies like GM. Governments should embrace it cautiously, but purposefully. Blocking it in obedience to green hysteria sacrifices the public interest.

4 States in 5 Days ... a Loss for Innovation

- AusBiotech, 1 April 2004

AusBiotech, Australia's biotechnology industry organisation is stunned and amazed at a week in politics that has seen GM moratoria placed in four states in five days.

In such a short period of time, many of AusBiotech's members and biotechnology players have been left wondering at the timing, coordination and coincidental moratorium periods and legislation announced in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

"This marks a sad day for colleagues in the agriscience and biotechnology industries, as the sheer enormity of this decision impacts the competitiveness of Australia's technology and the ongoing confidence and support of local researchers, " said Dr Tony Coulepis, Executive Director, AusBiotech.

"Not only have biotechnology colleagues questioned the transparency of our government processes, but also the state governments ' confidence in the national regulatory body - the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). "

AusBiotech urges the agriscience and biotechnology communities to unite and work towards the future development and needs of these innovative industries and to minimise the international criticism of such an action.

"The moratoria decisions will have a much wider impact than the multinational companies they directly effect at the present time. These decisions erode away the international confidence and perception of Australia as a globally competitive biotechnology and agriscience country and sadly makes the task for our researchers even harder to remain competitive, " Dr Coulepis said.

Internationally, experience has shown that Moratoria impacts investor confidence and support to the agriscience sector, as evidenced in Europe, and already indicated for Australia by international investors.

In Europe, a 2002 survey showed 61% of the private sector cancelled R&D projects in this emerging technology as a result of moratorium actions.

"Now more than ever, agriscience stakeholders need to unite to support the national OGTR regulatory system and other innovative technologies that are also on the agenda for review."

"As the Australian biotechnology industry organisation, many of our members are questioning what will be next in line for such a harsh treatment against all scientific and logical argument?"

AusBiotech is seeking reassurances from political leaders that technology and excellent research does count and Australia ' s global competitiveness is not something to play with.

Media Contact:
Paris Brooke, Communications Manager, AusBiotech
tel: 03 9208 4318 / 0407 715 574

Paris Brooke
Policy and Communications Manager

AusBiotech Ltd
Australia's Biotechnology Organisation
576 Swan St
Richmond Vic 3121
Ph. +61 3 9208 4318
Fax. +61 3 9208 4201
Mob. 0407 715 574


Too little and too late

- CropGen, April 1, 2004

While it is disappointing that, in the light of endless official delays and prevarications, Bayer feels disinclined to proceed with Chardon maize, clear messages have emerged.

The first is that Bayer made a business decision, confirming what some people have been saying all along: that GM technology is a commercial opportunity, not a dogma. If a project is not worth developing further, drop it. New maize strains have a commercial life of five years or a little more before they are replaced by something better. Chardon was already years late into the field because of the many superfluous barriers placed in the path of its development and there were likely to be another two years before all the additional hurdles were surmounted. It had simply outlived its usefulness.

The anti-GM campaigners will no doubt be celebrating and they should make the most of it: their happiness will be short-lived. Agricultural biotechnology has a global momentum which is unlikely to be halted by minor commercial decisions – and Bayer have confirmed their commitment to going forward.

The Bayer announcement points up the weak basis on which the Government appears to have decided "yes but" for maize and "no but" for oilseed rape and sugar beet. Fodder maize is not much of a commercial crop in Britain; the other two are. Interpreting the Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) data (as the Government did) to mean that GM maize is "good' for the environment while GM oilseed rape and sugar beet are "bad" is, perhaps, based more on political science than on sound science.

The FSEs told us about weed management; in two cases, the control of weeds was more effective in protocols using GM crops. But "good" or "bad"? That is very much a matter of opinion. The sensible decision would have been to go forward with all three, considering carefully how best to do so. On their working land, farmers need to grow crops, not weeds; the field margins, the areas between fields and uncultivated land together offer plenty of opportunity for weeds to proliferate.

British farmers will now be in the bizarre position of being allowed to import GM cattle feed but not to grow it themselves: every year the UK brings in 2 million tonnes of cheap-to-grow GM maize and soya, a figure set to rise. With six or seven million farmers using the technology abroad, and increasing year on year, GM crops are obviously attractive because they lower production costs. But not here – we will make do with yesterday's technology while they use tomorrow's.

There is another message for all of us. From every quarter of business and commerce come complaints of excessive red tape. As a nation (and a
continent) we are in danger of increasing paralysis and loss of
initiative: too many proposals simply become not worth the candle. The Chardon episode, minor though it is, offers a warning that playing it excessively carefully (the "precautionary principle", some people call it) does none of us much good.


Europe's voters opt for paralysis and stagnation

- THE TIMES, April 01, 2004, By Anatole Kaletsky

RARELY has the cliché about rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic been more apposite than it was yesterday, when President Chirac announced the rearrangement of ministerial responsibilities in the French Government. After suffering a record-breaking defeat in Sunday's regional elections, which saw Socialists gaining 21 of the country's 22 regional administrations, M Chirac read the result as a vote of no confidence in his Government's half-hearted economic reforms. His response was to abandon even the pretence of reform.

President Chirac dismissed the one member of his Government with any understanding of business and economics, the broadly pro-market Finance Minister Francis Mer. For good measure, M Mer has been replaced with the politician most likely to play to the populist gallery and give the public whatever they want - higher public spending, protection from imports, more generous pensions and greater regulation of employment and working hours. Moreover the new Finance Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, is a politician whoseA personal failure would delight President Chirac. For M Sarkozy is the only member of the Cabinet with a strong independent following and, worse still, is known to harbour an ambition to become President. The inescapable conclusion is that France will now abandon even the half-hearted efforts of the past few years to make its economy more competitive and set some limits to public spending growth.

If this development were an isolated occurrence, it would hardly be worthy of comment. France, after all, was already the laggard in Europe on all matters relating to economic reform. But this week's events in France were anything but an aberration. Across the whole of Europe, weak and unpopular governments are rejecting market- orientated reforms and shirking difficult decisions.

This is a tragedy of historic importance, given the challenges which Europe faces: ageing populations, unsustainable government finances, intensifying competition from Japan and America, and the movement of jobs in traditional mass-production manufacturing industries to China, India and Eastern Europe. More parochially, the abandonment of market-orientated policies will hurt Britain's economic interests and deliver a bodyblow to Tony Blair's strategy of "putting Britain at the heart of Europe".

The unexpected election of a Socialist and anti-American Spanish Government dramatically altered the balance of power in Europe, not only on geopolitics but also on issues of economic and social reform. Under José María Aznar, Spain was in many cases the swing voter in Europe, tilting the balance of power in the EU in favour of the pro-market, competitive policies which Britain advocates and Germany and France oppose. Just as importantly, Spain was seen as a model by European countries (especially Italy) wAhose leaders understood the need for economic reform but were not quite ready to endorse sweeping British-style deregulation.

With many of Europe's economic policy decisions finely balanced between the pro-market and anti- reform camps, Spain was frequently decisive - sometimes because of its own vote and sometimes because it gave Italy, Portugal and Greece the cover to abstain or vote against public opinion and French and German interests. Now Spain will tilt the see-saw of EU politics in the opposite direction. With José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's arrival, the pro-market Spanish reform model will be dismantled, Italy's trade uniAons will find it much easier to intimidate Silvio Berlusconi's Government and the balance of power in Europe will swing decisively towards the Franco-German axis on economic, as well as diplomatic issues.

Señor Zapatero gave a clear indication of this new tilt within hours of the election, when he promised to review the short-term labour contracts which Señor Aznar introduced to give Spanish employers an almost Anglo-Saxon-style freedom to hire and fire their workers. These contracts were largely responsible for the Aznar Government's greatest economic achievement - the halving of Spain's unemployment rate from nearly 25 per cent to a still appalling 11 per cent. A third of Spain's salaried employees now woArk on temporary contracts. Whether Señor Zapatero will be foolish enough to abolish temporary contracts remains to be seen, but the swing in the pendulum of European economic policy cannot be denied.

Three of the big four continental countries - France, Spain and Germany - are now gripped by a powerful reaction against the pro-market drift of economic policies during the past decade. The fourth, Italy, will almost certainly follow in the months ahead, leaving Britain isolated, or at best supported by only a coterie of small Scandinavian countries, on most of the big economic issues.

Why has this happened and how long might economic paralysis persist? It is tempting simply to blame bad luck or a series of coincidences which have foisted on Europe a combination of weak, incompetent or illegitimate leaders. In France, President Chirac won his landslide two years ago only because of an electoral quirk which presented voters with no alternative apart from the far- right Jean-Marie Le Pen. In Germany, Gerhard Schröder was re-elected because of the Iraq war and a summer flashflood which his Achallenger, Edmund Stoiber, mishandled. In Spain, the new Government came to power only because of the Madrid bombings.

The questionable legitimacy of so many European leaders makes it harder to pursue economic reforms that might temporarily hurt important sectors of the electorate, especially the protected workers of the public sector. But behind the crisis of legitimacy in much of Europe, there seem to be two deeper forces.

The first is the growing tension between national and pan-European institutions. The sense among European voters that unelected officials in Brussels have more power over their lives than their national politicians, has naturally produced a toxic combination of disillusionment, frustration and political confusion. The growing power of the European Commission and the European Central Bank has also created a sense of paralysis among national politicians and encouraged them to shrug off their responsibilitiesA.

The second force for Europe's paralysis in economic policy is even more fundamental. Most voters in Europe see no urgent reason to reform their economies, reduce their social safety-nets or even question the wisdom of the bureaucratic elites who have been running the EU with such apparent success for the past 50 years.

The quality of life remains pretty good in most of Europe, especially in Germany and France - and especially for the older people who, because of the collapse in birth rates, now dominate politics. In Germany and Italy over-60s account for 30 per cent of the voting-age populations - and a much higher proportion of the people who actually vote. The comparable figures in America and Britain are only 20 and 25 per cent.

Older Europeans are understandably more interested in preserving their comfortable lifestyles and living off the fat accumulated in the golden years of postwar growth, rather than creating the conditions for dynamic economies in the future. They are not too bothered if young people remain unemployed - especially as many of the jobless are not their grandchildren but young people from minority ethnic groups. Voters who are either retired or approaching retirement naturally elect politicians who promise to gAuarantee over-generous pensions, even if this means saddling future generations of taxpayers with unsupportable debts.

The economic stagnation and political paralysis now settling on Europe will last not for years but for decades or even a whole generation. After all, a neat arrangement of deckchairs was the least that the elderly passengers on the Titanic had the right to expect.

Join the debate at comment@thetimes.co.uk


GMO maize crops set to grow

- South African Broadcasting Corporation, April 01, 2004

The proportion of South Africa's maize crop that is genetically modified will double this year and next and is likely to make up more than 50% of the total in five years' time, an industry expert said.

South Africa is one of few countries in the world that produces GMO white maize for human consumption. In contrast to most of its neighbours, the South African government has given broad backing to the controversial technology.

Wynand van der Walt, a bio-technology consultant, told reporters late yesterday that the current GMO white maize crop would be around 8% of this year's harvest, increasing to around 16% in 2005, compared to 3% last year. "I think white maize will double up to next year, then as the seed becomes available and as farm scale trials bring the farmers on board, the adoption rate will increase quite substantially," said Van der Walt, who consults for biotech industry body, AfricaBio.

He said GMO technology combated insects such as stalk borer, reduced the need for harsh herbicides and helped emerging black farmers avoid the cost of expensive crop sprays for white maize - the staple food for most South Africans. "I would say in five years' time the total (GMO) maize crop should be at least 50 or 60%, both white and yellow," van der Walt said.

Separation of maize crops

Bully Botma, the head of farming group Grain South Africa, said regulations separating GMO and non-GMO maize crops would reassure importers opposed to the technology, particularly African states which receive more than 80% of South Africa's 1.2 million tonnes of exports every year.

"There is an identity preservation system, there are identified silos especially for GM so it's not a problem," said Botma. On Monday, the UN's World Food Programme said Angola had become the latest African country to ban GMOs, despite its reliance on food handouts from the US, the world's largest grower of GMO crops.

Van der Walt said that while the proportion of GMO yellow maize - primarily used for animal feed - would remain steady at around 20% this year, the total planted area of GMO soy, cotton and maize rose by 33% last year.


Local GM maize set to double

- Reuters, April 2, 2004

Johannesburg - The proportion of the local maize crop that was genetically modified (GM) would double this year and next and was likely to make up more than 50 percent of the total in five years' time, an industry expert said.

South Africa is one of few countries in the world that produces GM white maize for human consumption. In contrast to most of its neighbours, the government has broadly backed the technology.

Biotechnology consultant Wynand van der Walt said on Wednesday that the current GM white maize crop would be about 8 percent of this year's harvest, increasing to 16 percent in 2005, compared with 3 percent last year.

Bully Botma, the head of farming group Grain SA, said regulations separating GM and non-GM maize crops would reassure importers opposed to the technology, particularly African states, which received more than 80 percent of South Africa's 1.2 million tons every year.


UCT Professor Savours Taste of Scientific Success
Unesco to honour her for work on genetic engineering

- Business Day (Johannesburg), April 1, 2004, By Tamar Kahn

TOMORROW night worldrenowned scientist Prof Jennifer Thomson will be heading off to a celebration of note, joining fellow luminary Prof George Ellis in toasting their prizes at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Ellis recently won the R10m Templeton Prize for his work on science and religion, while Thomson scooped the $100 000 L'Oréal United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Award for her work on genetic engineering.

Her award, which is judged by a panel that includes two Nobel prize-winning scientists, recognises outstanding women scientists around the world.

Thomson heads up a team of molecular biologists at UCT, which has spent the past decade trying to engineer maize to be resistant to the maize streak virus. The virus is widely found in Africa and stunts growth and cob development in affected plants.

"We don't know in rand terms what it costs, but farmers will tell you that it can be devastating," says Thomson.

Her team has succeeded in finding a way to stop the virus replicating and spreading in a noncommercial maize variety, and is now working with local seed company Panaar to develop a commercial strain.

Thomson is also investigating the potential for transferring the tough aspects of the South African resurrection plant Xerophyta viscosa into maize, in the hope of making it better able to withstand drought.

"It can lose 95% of its water and look totally dead, but if you add water, within three days it will (become) fully green and healthy," says Thomson of the plant that survives in cracks in the rocks of the Drakensberg mountains in KwaZulu-Natal.

Her team has already isolated nine genes that combine to give X.viscosa its remarkable properties, and they are now exploring the genes' capabilities for helping maize survive critical dry spells.

Thomson co-founded the Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering, but is curiously reticent on why so few women build successful careers in the sciences. She points out that scientific pursuits require a focus and dedication that does not marry well with the demands of family life.

"You can't tell a bacterium that it's got to stop growing because you have to go home at five to feed the kids," she says.

Thomson is an enthusiastic member of Ellis's Saturday afternoon hiking club (which is something of an institution at UCT), and says he gave her invaluable advice on writing her recently published book, Genes for Africa .

She wrote the book in just four weeks, a feat she attributes to Ellis's suggestion that she figure out what chapters she would like to see , amass the requisite data, and then start writing.

She set out to show that food containing genetically engineered ingredients is safe to eat.

"In the history of humankind no food has been tested as thoroughly as genetically modified crops. In fact there's no such thing as safe food, only the safe use of food you could overdose on eggs or pineapple for that matter," she says.

Moreover, says Thomson, there are plenty of foods on the market today that would never make the grade if subjected to the same stringent testing as genetically engineered crops.

It is such "miniscule" risks, initially unforeseen by scientists, that so alarm the antigenetically modified lobby campaigning vigorously for a moratorium on genetically engineered crops .

"Then don't use technology at all," responds Thomson. "If you are not prepared to take a little bit of risk for the benefit (you'll gain), then don't catch a plane, don't cross the street."

Thomson has been practically demonised by local lobby groups opposed to the genetic engineered of crops, but shrugs off their attacks, saying she has "broad shoulders".

She says the lobbyists stance is taken seriously by government, but dismisses their "sensational" tactics, saying they borrow heavily from the Europeans and by implication have little to offer that is original or specific to SA.

(More on Professor Thomson at

Date: Thu, 01 Apr 2004 11:50:19 -0600
From: "Andrew Apel"
Subject: RE: Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation

Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation

In "Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation in the UK" (AgBioView, Wed, 31 Mar 2004) Sivramiah Shantharam pointed out that Bayer's decision not to commercialize its GM maize in the UK points out that excessive regulation of GM technology "makes it prohibitively expensive to comply with" "is as good as banning it..."

Depending on your perspective, it is either interesting or disappointing to see the United States going down the same road, though for different reasons.

In the UK, it has been decided that the value of GM crops is to be determined by their ability to produce larger quantities of weeds; Chardon LL maize, now abandoned by Bayer, only gained guarded approval because associated weed control practices were less effective--clearly signaling that the UK has decided that the purpose of farming is not so much to produce food, as to maintain farms as something like picturesque parks at public expense which activists may occupy and lay waste to at their convenience.

In the US, it has been decided that the value of GM crops is determined by its value to the farmer and the environment; but more sophisticated products are in the pipeline, and the new trend here, also in the direction of making things prohibitively expensive, is meant to appease food processors--who care nothing of the environment whatsoever. The Pew Charitable Trusts, in the guise of being an "honest broker" or "conciliatory voice" recently released a report highly critical of US regulatory policies which have to date proved quite effective in preventing the slightest food health risk.

Seeing the trend in the US toward making regulation and production of GM crops prohibitively expensive, an entrepreneur is now developing plans to grow the next generation of GM crops in abandoned mines, using artificial lighting and air filtration to prevent pollen movement.

A lot of these next-generation crops do nothing more than produce compounds already found elsewhere in nature, such as in the human body. Others are designed with general health benefits in mind, such as vaccines or improved nutrition.

Doubtless many in the UK believe the loss of weeds justifies hyper-regulation, just as many in the US fear the damage frightened, uninformed consumers might do to the perceived value of branded products (even though the ridiculous StarLink episode proved to be an expensive failure with no perceptible damage to taco sales).

Amongst all of this is a misplaced faith in regulators; are they sufficiently godlike to be worth every least cost they impose on novel technology? Do they inherently know that their costs immediately confer benefits on us? Is the highest possible cost of regulation automatically the most beneficial? And are we gullible enough to believe such claims?

Regulation in the UK has driven out a GM maize product but the US, for differing reasons, is heading down that same path. In spite of beating the world in its flow of innovations, US regulations are becoming less friendly, not more friendly, to biotech, and often for reasons as sensible as how many weeds we can produce.

From: John Cross
Date: April 2, 3004

Dear Robin,

Your question comes, I am sure, from your deeply-felt concerns for biodiversity, and preservation environmental quality. One only need visit any large city to see how poorly human beings do in managing some high-density environments.

However, I think some of your preconceptions about biotech are unfounded. You see biotech as an engine that by its essence threatens natural biodiversity. From my knowledge, I must disagree. In fact, biotech is one of the promising tools that we can use to ensure that agriculture and cultivated forestry (two very unnatural human activities) do minimal damage to the surrounding natural environment.

I suggest you might want to read "Guns, Germs, and Steel" to learn more about how technology has helped human development and why some societies have developed faster than others. In fact there are many reasons why the species that humans have chosen for intensive breeding are more suitable for domestication than the other possibilities. In that book, Jared Diamond explores this issue very thoughtfully.

I would be delighted to discuss these issues with you further.

Best wishes,

John Cross


From: Robin Turner


Why do you believe in biotech? Do you not care for natural biodiversity? Do you not think that the problems we have with food production can be solved using natures existing species? The entire premise of biotechnology exacerbates the problem which will lead to the downfall of society, that people think they are smarter than nature.

Robin Turner


EU GM labyrinth

- Truth about Trade, 3-31-2004

European Union rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a legal labyrinth.

Several different procedures apply for authorising a biotech product, depending on the uses that the manufacturer specifies in its request for EU approval. The most common requests are for cultivation, use in animal feed or industrial processing.

Some laws have been updated and replaced since the bloc started its effective moratorium on authorising new gene crops and products in 1998.

Here is a simplified guide to the GMO legislation and authorisation


A company that intends to market a GMO must:

1. apply to the competent national authority of the EU member state where the product will first be placed on the market, and include a full risk assessment.

2. if the authority gives a favourable opinion, the member state informs other member states via the European Commission.

3. if there are no objections by other member states, the notifying state or its national food safety authority may authorise the product for marketing throughout the EU.

4. if there are objections which are sustained, a decision is needed at EU level and the following procedure is initiated:

- depending on the law used for the application, the Commission asks a committee of member state scientists or the independent European Food Safety Authority for an opinion.

- if the opinion is favourable, the Commission submits a draft decision to a regulatory committee of either food safety or environment experts from the member states. If they agree, the Commission adopts the decision, and authorises the new GMO.

- if the committee does not agree, the Commission sends its draft approval to the Council of Ministers, likely to be either agriculture or environment ministers, who have three months to reject or adopt it. If they do not act within this time, the Commission may adopt its own decision and authorise the new GMO.

EUROPE'S GMO LAWS 1.Deliberate Release Law (Directive 2001/18):

This is the EU's main GMO law, dating from October 2002, and replaces Directive 90/220. First approvals under this law are limited to a maximum of 10 years.

The law covers any environmental release of products that contain or consist of GMOs. This includes live GMOs for planting, as well as those for use in feed and processing.

The law also has a safeguard clause whereby a member state may provisionally restrict or prohibit the use of a GMO on its territory if it has cause to consider that an approved GMO product poses a risk to human health or the environment.

This clause has been invoked nine times. In each case, the Commission has ruled that the restrictions must be withdrawn.

2. Novel Foods Law (Regulation 258/97):

This law dating from January 1997 covers food products and food ingredients derived from GMOs -- such as flour, starch or oil from a GM maize, paste or ketchup from a GM tomato. Only products deemed safe for human consumption may be marketed.

The law has a special procedure for foods derived from GMOs but no longer containing them. If a food is "substantially equivalent" to existing foods or ingredients, the company may notify the Commission itself (with a scientific justification).

Nine pending applications have been submitted under this law, to be replaced in mid-April by the new GM Food and Feed Regulation. Only those products with a final scientific assessment before the new regulation enters into force -- currently three -- may be processed under the Novel Foods law.

3. GM Food and Feed Law (Regulation 1829/2003) and GMO Traceability and Labelling Law (Regulation 1830/2003):

These are the EU's most recent laws on GMO authorisations and came into force in September 2003. However, member states have until April 18, 2004 to alter national laws to comply.

They set down criteria and standardised procedures for evaluating potential risks, as well as rules on labelling feed that consists of GMOs, contains GMOs or is produced from GMOs.

All GM feed and all foods produced from GMOs, whether or not there is GM material in the final product, must be labelled.

This applies, for example, to biscuits made from GM maize, refined soyoil made from GM soybeans, and corn gluten feed made from GM maize. The threshold for labelling is 0.9 percent.

For accidental GMO presence in food or feed, the threshold is 0.5 percent but it must be proved this cannot be technically avoided. Above this, the product may not be put on the market.

However, there is no requirement to label products such as meat, milk or eggs that are obtained from animals fed with modified feed or treated with modified medicinal products.

SEEDS (Directive 98/95)

EU rules on biotech seeds date from December 1998 and are due for an update. The Commission wants a revised law in place by mid-April, when the GM Food and Feed law takes full effect.

But member states disagree over the Commission's proposed thresholds for GMO presence in organic and conventional seeds.

These are 0.3 percent GMO limit for organic and conventional rapeseed, 0.5 percent for maize and 0.7 percent for soybeans. Conventional seeds that contain genetically modified seeds below these thresholds would not have to be labelled.



IFPRI, March, 2004

Local farming communities throughout the world face productivity constraints, environmental concerns, and diverse nutritional needs. Developing countries address these challenges in a number of ways. One way is public research that produces genetically modified (GM) crops and recognize biotechnology as a part of the solution. To reach these communities, GM crops, after receiving biosafety agreement, must be approved for evaluation under local conditions.

However, gaps between approvals in the developed and developing world grow larger, as the process of advancing GM crops in developing countries becomes increasingly difficult. In several countries, only insect resistant cotton has successfully moved from small, confined experimental trials to larger, open trials and to farms. By far, most GM crop approvals have been for commercial products that perform well under tropical conditions.

However, complete information on public GM crop research in developing countries has not been assessed. “Will policies and research institutions in the developing world stimulate the safe use of publicly funded GM food crops?” The relatively few GM crops approved from public research, coupled with growing regulatory, biosafety capacity, trade, and political concerns, argue to the contrary.

To tackle this issue, we identified and analyzed public research pipelines for GM crops among 16 developing countries and transition economies. Respondents reported 209 genetic transformation events1 for 46 different crops at the time when the survey was conducted. The pipelines demonstrate scientific progress among publicly funded crop research institutes in participating countries. Information and findings are presented for GM crops nearing final stages of selection. Additional details are provided for the types of genes and traits used, the breadth of genetic resources documented, implications for regulation, and the type of research partnerships employed.

Regulations, GM crop approvals, choice of transgene, and policy implications are discussed as they affect this research. Based on these findings, recommendations are presented that would help sustain and increase efficiency of publicly supported research while meeting biosafety requirements. To do so, the study examines results concerning investments and choices made in research, capacity, and policy development for biotechnology. These indicate the risk and potential for GM technologies in developing countries. Policy makers, those funding biotechnology, and other stakeholders can use this information to prioritize investments, consider product advancement, and assess relative magnitude of potential risks, and benefits.

Full document (PDF) at http://www.ifpri.org/divs/eptd/dp/papers/eptdp116.pdf