Interview: Biotech sector awaits further GMO approvals

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Ahead of a meeting of EU environment ministers, European bioindustries and farmers urged member states to accept opening the EU market to more GM products. With a spectacular increase of 77% (in just one year) of GM-cultivated hectares in Europe, prospects for further growth in the sector are hampered by EU states’ persistent reluctance to allow more transgenic crops onto the market.

Figures showing an increase of 77% of the number of hectares planted with GM crops in Europe in one year were released on 29 October 2007, just a day before the EU-27 Environment ministers are set to discuss proposals on GMO cultivation and import bans. 

Asked why bioindustries insist on pushing for more green biotech against European public opinion and faced with member states’ resistance, Nathalie Moll, the executive director of the Green Biotech unit at EuropaBio (the European Association for Bioindustries) said: “I believe in freedom of choice and giving those who want it access to choice – and for those who don’t want it, not to buy it”.

A recent Eurobarometer survey (May 2006) showed that majority of Europeans widely see GM food as “not being useful, morally unacceptable and a risk for society”.

She also emphasised the need for the authorisation process to be based on science and not public perception. Just as “it is important to make the distinction between public perception and the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle is good and it should be used. And it is used in Europe, but it should not be mixed up with public perception. Governments need to assess the safety of something, not whether the public wants it,” said Moll.

Asked how sustainable and economically profitable green biotech can be in the long run, taking into account that GMO science is still uncertain, Moll said: “I think the market should decide. It is shown to be sustainable because it’s been going on for ten years around the world and there is an increase. In Europe there seems to be confusion between authorisation and the right to choose. Everybody seems to think that once you authorise these products you are going to have to buy them but you can still choose if you want to. And the best way to put industry out of the business is to let the people choose and show that they don’t want it.”

“There are 209 GM crops in the world and here in Europe we only have one. So the prospects for growth in Europe, I see, is that the other products get approved and the farmers have a choice,” she added.

Moll’s wishes were echoed by a Hungarian and a French farmer, Gabor Balla and Jacques Beauville, frustrated of seeing their maize harvests destroyed by the European corn borer whereas a GM maize could help them to have good quality crops.

“I can’t say whether it’s safe or not but I need to work for my profit and think of the environment [using less pesticides]. Therefore I’d like to use other GM products to make more profit and be more competitive,” said Balla. 

“Biotech allows me to compensate the loss that the European corn borer does. It also brings sanitary benefits thanks to the absence of mycotoxins in the crop,” said Beauville, launching a plea for the media to help explain the GM issue to the general public while abstaining from sensational misinformation.

To read the full interview with Nathalie Moll, click here.

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