What is the future of GMOs

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08 October 2010

In one corner of England scientists have just cracked the complete genetic code of wheat, whilst another has been the subject of an outcry that began when an American newspaper quoted an unnamed British farmer who claimed he was selling milk from a clone-derived animal into the food-chain. So, what is the future of GMOs?

Amongst the latest crop trials awaiting EU approval for commercial growth are potatoes that can fight off blight without the aid of pesticides, sugar beet capable of withstanding glyphosate and maize resistant to its two main pests. But Brussels has generally kept its doors shut to GMOs and over the course of nearly ten years just two GM crops have been approved for growth on farms in the EU. The first, which was granted approval in 1998, is a maize variety with resistance to European corn borer and the second is a highly efficient starch potato that contains just the right compound for industrial processing. However, this may all stand to change.

The European Food Safety Authority run by the EC painstakingly tests and re-tests GM food until it gains scientific approval. Once authorised, the next step involves the release of the GMO for cultivation and this is where the changes are happening.

On July 13 2010, the Commission adopted a comprehensive proposal that provides more freedom to the Member States so that once approval is completed they can decide whether to allow, restrict or ban cultivation of the particular GM product on their territory. This move is designed to support the implementation of a faster GM approval process for those who support GMOs because the process will no longer have to cater for those member states that want to place blanket bans over GM.

Britain is one of Europe's most vigorous cheerleaders for the expansion of GM crops. Along with Spain and the Netherlands it has lobbied the European Commission to overturn the current system governed by an EC Directive made in 2001. The UK has committed hundreds of millions of pounds of public money to agricultural research around the world. For those member states which are less inclined towards GM, there is an opt-out from GM cultivation all together.

The new EC proposal intends to paint a certain political picture for biotechnology companies with currently limited access to the EU market, farmers with a limited choice of agricultural products and finally to producers and importers of GM seeds with no current access to the market or to the product.  

Consumers and the wider public constantly receive contradictory messages on concerns over the safety of GMOs and with Member States free to make divergent opinion, this trend is set to continue. However, at least in some territories, producers should see a clearer route to the European GM market in the years to come.

For further information contact George Fellowes on 0117 939 2000 or email  george.fellowes@burges-salmon.com

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