Industry offers cautious optimism as EU approves new biotech traits

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 24, 2015 - The European Union has announced the approval of 10 new genetically modified seed traits and the renewal of seven others to be used as feed and food imports. The decision comes just days after a controversial decision to allow each of their 28 member states to opt out of allowing such biotech approvals.

“On the one hand, we're happy to see these traits finally receive Commission approval after years of delay,” American Soybean Association First Vice President Richard Wilkins said in a release. “The 17 products approved by the European Commission today have been pending for 69 months, on average, despite EU laws and regulations that foresee an 18-month time period for a decision.

“Whenever our technology partners bring a new trait to market, farmers in the U.S. aren't able to fully recognize the benefits of products with those traits until they are accepted in all of our key export markets, so this is a big, big step forward.”

On the other hand, Wilkins said the opt-out decision announced earlier this week is “a giant step backwards.” He said that if the proposal is adopted, “it would be in clear violation of the EU's obligations under the World Trade Organization and would negatively impact U.S. soy exports to Europe.”

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Indeed, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman expressed disappointment earlier this week with the European Commission's new regulatory proposal and said it would be a hindrance to trade and job growth and would complicate agricultural trade. 

The commission suggested member states be allowed to opt out of allowing approved GMO ingredients in their respective countries, even on non-scientific grounds.

“Moreover, dividing the EU into 28 separate markets for the circulation of certain products seems at odds with the EU's goal of deepening the internal market,” Froman noted.

Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said the opt-out proposal would “undermine international scientific consensus” and would “arbitrarily shut off European consumers from accessing healthy, affordable and quality agricultural commodities.”

Much like the rest of the American agricultural industry, Greenwood welcomed the approval of new crops, but said more must be done to ensure EU acceptance of biotechnology.

“As we look to the future, the ability to commercialize new products needed to address both climate change and a growing world population depends on science and risk-based regulation that is both predictable and timely,” Greenwood said in a release.  “The world cannot afford innovation to be captive to politics.”

Of the 10 new products authorized for import today, soybeans are the biggest beneficiaries with five new varieties receiving approval, including high-oleic, dicamba-tolerant, and omega-3 soybeans.

Three new varieties of cotton were also approved along with one variety each of corn and oilseed. Of the seven crops that received renewals, four were cotton variations, two corn, and one oilseed.

Two GMO cut flowers not intended for food and feed were also approved.

The authorizations are valid for 10 years, and any products produced from these GMO crops will be subject to EU labeling and traceability rules, the Commission said. The new authorizations will be added to the 58 varieties of GMO corn, cotton, soybean, oilseed, and sugar beets currently authorized in the EU for food and feed use.

“Any time we see the progress of modern agricultural biotechnology furthered by an approval for import in a foreign market, that's a step forward, and our farmers benefit,” Wilkins said. “But on the whole, this week has shown that we still have a long way to go in Europe.”

The GMO's adopted in the EU today are as follows:

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