Biotech a tough sell in Europe

European governments heavily influenced by environmental groups opposed to GM foods

Europe isn’t about to change its stance on genetically modified crops any time soon or stop exerting its influence on developing nations, says a supporter of the technology.

Stuart Smyth, industry funded research chair in agri-food innovation at the University of Saskatchewan’s agriculture college, said the European Parliament is heavily influenced by environmental groups opposed to the technology.

“This is going to be a fight to the death by the environmental groups. They will never concede a single benefit to biotechnology,” he told delegates attending the Emerging Technologies for Global Food Security Conference.

“Last year, the anti-biotechnology movement spent over $10 billion globally fighting biotechnology.”

By comparison, the latest figures he had for total annual research and development spending by the six largest agricultural technology companies was $8.6 billion.

Smyth said the European Union is showing no signs of changing its attitude toward GM crops.

The G7 group of nations recently announced a joint initiative aimed at lifting 500 million people out of poverty by 2030. One of the tactics promoted by the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is for farmers in 10 African countries to start using GM crops and hybrid seed.

“The European Parliament calls it a mistake, and they’re actually trying to encourage the G7 to move away from a commitment to GM crops,” said Smyth.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development recently issued an annual report that was highly critical of biotechnology. Most of its 60 authors were Europeans.

The report concludes that the future of food security in developing countries is a return to organic, small-scale farming practices.

Smyth said the European Union’s regulatory system is in a state of gridlock. Developers of GM crops are facing three to five year delays getting their new varieties through the approval system. Some traits have been languishing in the system for more than a decade.

He said the regulatory delays are greatly reducing returns on investment for developers of GM crops. It costs an average of $136 million to commercialize a GM crop.

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And the situation is getting worse. Last year, the EU decided to shift GM crop approvals from the European Commission to the member states.

“Immediately 19 of the 28 member states of the EU opted to ban GM crops,” said Smyth.

Environmental groups are also targeting new gene editing technologies such as CRISPR. Some argue it shouldn’t face the same regulatory scrutiny as GM crops because no new genes are being inserted in the plant.

However, environmental groups have called on the EC to reject any attempt to exclude new technologies from EU regulation.

Smyth said that will only further stifle innovation in the EU and elsewhere. Companies such as BASF have pulled their research spending out of the EU and transferred it to the United States.

Less than 10 percent of global agricultural research and development money is spent in the EU, compared to one-third 20 years ago when GM crops were first commercialized.

He is also concerned about the EU’s influence on developing countries when it comes to how they treat GM crops. He believes it is time for drastic action on that front.

“We need to help developing countries opt out of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety,” he said.

The EU was the main driver of the protocol, which 170 countries have ratified. Major exporters such as Argentina, Australia, Canada and the United States have refused to sign the agreement.

The agreement includes a clause that links import approval of GM crops to socio-economic considerations.

“It’s the biggest barrier to innovation and agriculture in the developing world,” said Smyth.

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“It’s based on the precautionary principal.”

There is pressure by environmental groups to adopt new wording in the clause that would change it from a voluntary approach to a mandatory requirement to consider socio-economic impacts.

The EU is using its considerable influence to pressure developing countries to sign the accord.

The World Trade Organization allows countries to establish favourable tariff rates for certain countries on certain products.

The EU requires that any country wanting the lower tariff rate must first ratify the Cartagena Protocol.

Smyth said governments from GM exporting nations should work with philanthropic organizations and researchers to convince developing countries to opt out of the protocol.

They need to show developing countries the benefits of GM crops.

PG Economics Ltd. released a report May 31 saying the global net farm benefit of GM crops has been $150 billion in the 19 years they have been commercialized.

Smyth highlighted numerous studies detailing how GM crops have boosted yields, decreased pesticide use and increased farmer profits.

His second “radical” idea was for Canada, the U.S. and Australia to seek regional agricultural trade agreements with developing countries, forcing them to break their ties with the EU.

“We need to find a way to fence Europe out of global agricultural trade,” he said.

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That would allow developing nations to freely decide whether they want to adopt new technologies.

  • Denise

    The biotechnology industry has created this distrust by not following proper scientific procedures and throwing out the “precautionary principle”. The lie they love to tell is that the use of pesticides has decreased, with the use of GMs. Many Europeans see what is happening here are not willing to go down that dark path. The GM biotech propaganda machine has been less effective in Europe.
    No doubt there are some GM crops that are useful, if you can afford them,and don’t mind being under the thumb of some big agrichemical and seed corp.
    The truth was lost a long time ago about the benefits of GMOs.
    “Like the layers of an onion, under the first lie is another,and under that another,and they all make you cry.” Derrick Jensen.
    The poorer the country, the wiser it is for them to stay away from the clutches of these powerful and greedy corps. There are lots of ways to grow healthy and bountiful crops that don’t poison the land, water and people, then leave you broke and dependent ,as well.

    • Stuart Smyth

      GM canola has resulted in 1.2 million kilograms less chemical applied to fields in Western Canada every year. Similar results are being reported in other countries, so the news is very positive about the ability of GM crops to reduce chemical use, providing additional health benefits as well as improved food security.

      • richard

        So I guess the two coats on the seed dont count (systemic neonic, and fungicide) or the two coats of glyphosate (burnoff and in crop)…..and perhaps another coat of fungicide in season or even another pesticide app…..Sorry Stuart, canola is on life support from before it even goes in the ground…..until the day its harvested…..Which is why the high clearance sprayer is the most important machine on the farm…..

        • Mitch

          You do realize those same treatments go on the non GMO’s , they would still get a seed treatment, burnoff, fungicide, plus the extra pesticide app if there is a bug problem. Except he the GMO’s wold also get a soil applied herbicide and two different chemicals applied in crop. One to control grasses and another to control some broadleaves but not all meaning the crop would held less. So more chemical usage on more acres to make up for the yield penalty.

          • richard

            OK…so why dont we quit spitting platitudes about the wonders of transgenics….. High input Canola and the ancillary hexane/bleaching/deodorizing, is rapidly becoming one of the dirtiest crops on the planet….right up there with tobacco and cotton… Combined with “zero till” which should really be called “ten pass” or “high impact” farming there is nothing either energy efficient or ecological about growing canola…..Industry “experts” are in dismay about the pubiic’s perception of their half truths and innuendo…..when what the public sees on a country drive is not owls and deer and butterflies but high clearance tanks engaged in a war on nature……

  • puskwakau

    While stating that Ruth Oniang’o is not a government employee, the article fails to state just who’s pocket she is in. (Although it is apparent by what/who she is promoting)
    A lacking of a proper distribution and storage system and regionally unstable governments is the cause of starvation in Africa, not the lack of some multinational corporation owning the patent on the world and their food supply.
    While GMO and prolific chemical agribiz operations is fiscally advantageous in Canada and USA because of the welfare cheque for ‘inputs tax deduction’ to that agribiz corporation, this is not so easily achieved by poorer governments in Africa.
    The result would be loss of ownership by their local farmers and multinational chemical corps ownership for payment default for those chemicals and patent infringement.

    • Harold

      To gain self respect for what you are saying, devote 3 and i half hours of your time and watch :– money masters- full documentary (1996).
      Starvation is not what you think. The topic is your money system.

  • Denise

    Here is a well written article by Dr. Warren Bell, a family physician from Salmon Arm BC, about the coming fall of Roundup. He explains why Roundup is ready to fall and needs to diaspppear,(the sooner the better) for all of us and our precious environment
    http://www.gmwatch.org/news/latest-news/17094-the-last-roundup- how-the-world-s-best-selling-pesticide-is-heading-for-a-fall

  • John Fefchak

    IT’s time to pay attention; especially when those “boosted yields” compromise
    our water sources.
    Slowly, but surely, our lakes and waters are also being affected and
    will be destroyed.
    Another deserving black eye report for Monsanto!
    They must be held accountable …..will government(s)
    respond?

    http://ecowatch.com/2016/07/05/monsanto-glyphosate-linked-algae-bloom/