Copyright: oticki

Biotechs speak up on GM crops

Despite a largely negative response from EU agriculture ministers to proposals to allow individual countries make their own decisions on the cultivation of GM crops, it seems certain that the battle over GM will be won or lost in the hearts and minds of EU citizens. It is their opinions on GM which influence local and national policy, which in turn, feeds into the European debate.

While policy makers and environmental groups have been vocal on the subject, the biotech industry, although clearly anxious to see movement on the issue, has been somewhat absent from the debate up until now. Perhaps there was a tendency to avoid confrontation while products were going through the authorisation process and certainly, some of the accusations made by the anti-GM side would have been considered too far-fetched to respond to.

Now, as John Dalli attempts to manoeuvre his compromise solution past the national governments, the biotech industry in Europe, represented by EuropaBio has launched a campaign to consolidate the pro-GM side.

Under the banner “Choice for Europe” the organisers say they want to allow citizens have “an informed choice in the supermarket or when discussing GM at the dinner table.”

Speaking to Euroscientist, Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, EuropaBio’s director of agricultural biotechnology stressed that they are pro-choice when it comes to GM. “Europeans should definitely have a choice, but by nationalising the decision-making process, is there really more choice? As it stands now, all the Member States already have a voice in the approval process,” he said.

Du Marchie Sarvaas argues that opinion on GM crops is not black and white. “Support for GM crops is a spectrum; it doesn’t have to be so divisive. I think one misperception people have is that they believe that companies that develop GM products believe everyone should only like GM but this isn’t the case.”

Despite striking a moderate tone, there are those in the anti-GM lobby who will argue that ‘big-business’ should stay out of this sort of decision making. However, Du Marchie Sarvaas responds: “We do want Europe to be as competitive as possible. We would also like to see more innovative products available on the market in Europe following the existing approval process”. The Dutch national also feels his organisation has a “responsibility to educate and inform about GM” and he points out that this is one of the reasons the organization exists.

Meanwhile, a recent Eurobarometer survey found that 77% of respondents agreed that farmers should be encouraged by Europe to “take advantage of progress in biotechnology.” No doubt, the organisers of this campaign will be aiming to push that figure even higher.

Photo credit: oticki_via_Shutterstock


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Eoin Lettice

Eoin lectures in plant science and general biology at University College Cork, Ireland. He also maintains his own blog and is interested in science communication, education and promotion. His research involves the biological control of plant pests and pathogens.

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