Politics / Law

GMOs and trade – the breaking point?

16.11.2009

Shipments of soybeans from the US are unlikely to return to normal anytime soon, even though in November the European Commission expanded the range of transgenic species that may enter the bloc. “It‘s highly unlikely that imports of soybeans from North America will be restarted before Syngenta’s MiR604 maize is authorised,” said a spokesman for the US Grain Council, a lobby organisation of US farmers. This summer, more than 200,000 tons of soybean and soymeal from the US were refused entry to EU ports because they contained small amounts of Pioneer Hi-Bred’s 59122xNK603 transgenic maize, Monsanto’s GM maize lines Mon88017 or Mon 809034, or Syngenta’s MiR604. Since mid-October, lobbyists from the European grain and oilseeds trade association Coceral have intensified lobbying efforts to lift the EU’s zero-tolerance policy concerning GMOs. “We need these soy supplies now,” said Klaus-Dieter Schumacher from Coceral. His organisation, together with the EU feed industry groups Fediol and Fefac, pointed out that the EU farming sector will require 6-7.5 million tons of soy feed from North America, because low harvests in South America have cut soy imports through the usual trade channels.

The industry’s claims are supported by EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, who called on member states in October to approve the GM maize crops. “The last thing EU farmers need now is an increase in feed prices,” she said, adding that EU countries should listen to scientific evidence rather than emotional appeals when deciding on new bio­tech products. The coalition agreement for the newly-elected German government also supports dropping the zero-tolerance EU rule. While the EU has approved a string of GMOs, it does not currently permit the import of others – even in minute amounts – until EU approval for the product is given. New EU approval for GMO imports has been slowed to a standstill by public concerns about safety.

New study war heating up

A new industry-sponsored information campaign aimed at promoting science-based policy has now come into play. “Science Matters”, which was launched by international PR giant Grayling in September, has received EUR100,000 in support from several chemical companies, according to EU observer. The information campaign will not focus solely on GMOs, but will also touch on other fields that are of concern to the wider public such as nanotechnology or risk assessment of chemicals. According to the campaign’s supporters, environmental risk assessment has become politicised in the EU.
Critics say they are concerned that “Science Matters” will be just another PR campaign serving the interests of its supporters. According to sources from the European Greens, previous campaigns run by Graylings are full of misinformation.
A month after “Science Matters” was launched, GMO opponents under former anti-GMO Greenpeace activist Christoph Then threw open a competing information portal called “Testbiotech”. It focuses exclusively on GMO risk assessment, and criticises the European Food watchdog EFSA for only relying on data delivered by the companies seeking GMO market approval.
Testbiotech has just released a report attacking the current approach to GMO crop safety assessment. Instead of focussing on specific genetic events, its authors ask readers to take into acount that genetic engineering could have an impact on genetic regulation networks. They called for the establishment of a crash-test for GMOs that provides information on how they react to stress. Called “Risk reloaded”, the study has been distributed to members of the European Parliament.

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