7 März 2013

Special event report: How do EU policies on biotech crops impact trade and development?

What role GM technology can play in helping farmers cope with agronomic and climatic stresses

Today, at an event organised by EuropaBio in Brussels, a group of high-level stakeholders from the development, trade, diplomatic and science communities shared insights on the global impacts of EU’s policies on genetically-modified (GM) crops. During two panel discussions on “Global food security and the role of biotech crops” and “The impact of EU policies on global trade in agricultural commodities”, speakers from Asia, the Americas and Europe gave their perspective on the challenges to ensure food supply for all in a changing environment, and their views on what role GM technology can play in helping farmers cope with agronomic and climatic stresses.

Agricultural biotechnology is the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of agriculture. GM crops are grown by more than 17 million farmers around the world, 90% of them being smallholder farmers in developing countries, on 170.3 million hectares of land. In 2012, the areas planted with GM crops in emerging and developing countries exceed those of industrialized countries.

The EU is today the world’s biggest net importer of agricultural commodities. The EU’s imports of protein commodities are estimated to total upwards of 60 kg per EU citizen per year (500 million), the majority of which are GM. However, the EU authorization system for GM products does not operate efficiently, causing trade problems directly linked to the difference of pace for import approvals between the EU and exporting countries. The governments of the main exporting countries, such as Brazil, Argentina and the US, operate more efficient authorisation systems, and they have decided to accelerate further.

By comparison, while the EU still takes close to 3.7 years on average for an import approval, approvals in Brazil currently take just over 2 years, and the U.S. is aiming for 1.5 years. If the current rate of authorisation continues, the backlog of pending products will increase to 106 by 2020, which will have serious economic consequences for European food and feed producers reliant upon imported GM products.

The industry is looking forward to a collaborative and constructive approach to solve pending issues related to the GM approval system, in accordance to EU law, good governance, predictability and workability as well as science-based decision-making. “With the increased adoption of GM crops in major exporting countries, it is crucial that the EU authorisation process is efficiently implemented in order to avoid trade disruptions that would not only mean losses for economic operators but would also affect European consumers”, declared Nathalie Moll, EuropaBio’s Secretary General. She added, “We have a responsibility in the EU toward the developing world. Our go-slow approach in the EU is hampering adoption of GM crops that could protect yields and help increase farmers’ income”.

Source: EuropaBio, press release, 2013-03-07.

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