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Europe impedes improvement of crops in the developing world.

On Tuesday the 20 February 2007, Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for the Environment announced at a public discussion organised by Friends of Europe, that she was concerned if Europe has a negative effect on countries in the developing world by imposing its standards on the rest of the world with regard to regulation on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

As a follow-up to this event, plant researchers from the developing world met in Brussels at a meeting organised by European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how European regulation on GM foods influence legislators in the developing world to call for unnecessary tough testing.

Thousands of people die every day in the developing world due to hunger or the use of harmful pesticides in agriculture. No death or any illness throughout the world has ever been connected to the use of GMO. The zero tolerance of GM foods unauthorised in Europe and the labelling of GM foods imported to Europe have a huge influence on legislators and research funding organisations in the developing countries. Even countries which have no export of foods to Europe are afraid of approving or supporting the development of GM foods because of European policy.

Former head of unit at the European Commission, DG Research and head of the unit of biotechnology at the OECD Mark F. Cantley said: ”The global influence of the European policy on GMO has a massive economic and political impact on our trading partners. The economic and political disincentives Europe imposes to the use of more modern and precise technologies and more environmentally friendly agricultural production makes it impossible for the developing world to develop new improved crops. We have painted ourselves into a corner in Europe, from which we shall not easily escape, and from which we have a malign influence on poor countries all over the world”.

Professor Jennifer Thomson from University of Cape Town says: “Genetically modified maize resistant to the devastating African endemic maize streak virus is in the pipeline for field trials. The problems of regulation are therefore of immediate importance. We are concerned about what we consider the over-regulation prevalent in Europe and question whether this may prevent, or severely delay, the approval of these plants that are desperately needed by poor Africans, many of whom eat maize three times a day.”

Professor Zen Zhangliang President of Beijings Agricultural University said: “In China we have a long tradition for plant development. Genetic engineering is a better and more precise technology. We have already many Chinese GM products on the market and we will invest massively in agricultural biotechnology in the coming years. It does not seem rational to me that the Europeans want to slow down their agricultural development with superfluous and heavy regulations.”

Professor Marc van Montagu, Department of Molecular Genetics, Ghent University and president of European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) concluded at the meeting with following comment: “A sustainable agriculture and a less-polluting industry badly need the GM-technology and the transgenic plants developed, worldwide, over the last ten years. Exactly in the same period, well-intentioned regulators in the EU set up an unnecessary and very costly application of the regulatory system. No small or medium enterprise, public research centre, charity or foundation can afford to open a file for approval through the established system. It is a crying injustice towards the developing world, towards nearly 85% of the world population.

Jens Degett | alfa
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