Increasing Numbers of European Farmers Want to Grow GM Crops, Says EuropaBio Survey

BioWorld International -- BRUSSELS, Belgium -- February 18, 2009 -- Increasing numbers of farmers in the European Union want the choice to cultivate biotech crops, according to EuropaBio, the biotech industry association. The findings, drawn from a set of recent surveys across Europe, echo the ever-increasing worldwide demand for biotech crops as shown by the recent release of global cultivation figures, the industry association noted.

"European farmers are increasingly interested in using new technologies such as agricultural biotechnology to meet the multiple challenges of feeding a growing population while minimizing the impact on the environment," said James Ede of the UK's National Farmers Union, supporting the EuropaBio claims. He said that European ministers should seize the earliest opportunity to end the 11-year moratorium on new biotech cultivation approvals and to lift "unscientific" bans in a number of member states.

"Europe's political leaders should respond to the demands of their farmers and offer them the freedom to choose the same tools available to their competitors globally," Ede said.

Nathalie Moll, of EuropaBio, said "Agbiotech cultivation in the EU has increased year upon year in those countries where farmers can choose. The national surveys show that even in countries where no agbiotech cultivation is possible because of unscientific bans, an 11-year moratorium on new cultivation approvals or vandalism, farmers want the choice to have access to the technology."

Suggesting that hostile governments were deliberately manipulating information to limit the use of GMOs, Moll commented, "How can we expect consumer confidence to increase if governments don't base decisions on science or worse still, hide the science?"

Meanwhile, European Union officials have started another attempt to overcome national refusals to implement EU decisions on authorized GM products. On Feb. 10, they made formal proposals to national ministers in the European Council of Ministers seeking to get Austria to lift its ban on the cultivation of maize MON810 and T25. For more than eight years, the Austrian authorities have invoked safeguard clauses in the EU rules to keep these products out of the country, and in November 2007, the government submitted what it claimed was scientific justification based on "the different agricultural structures and regional ecological characteristics" of Austria.

But in December 2008, the EU's food safety authority concluded that the evidence available does not sustain the arguments provided by Austria. It found that cultivation of MON810 and T25 is unlikely to have an adverse effect on human and animal health and the environment in Austria, and urged that the safeguard measure relating to the use and sale of seeds of those maize lines be repealed. The new action by EU officials is intended to give legal force to that conclusion from its safety experts.

In its annual study, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications found that 13.3 million farmers in a record 25 countries planted 125 million hectares of biotech crops in 2008. While France did not plant biotech crops in 2008, seven other EU countries increased their planting 21 percent to total more than 100,000 hectares, the same level as the record year of 2007. In order of biotech hectarage of Bt maize were Spain, Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Poland and Slovakia.

Advanced Therapies Panel has New Chairman

The European Medicines Agency's new committee for advanced therapies has elected Christian Schneider, of Germany, as chairman and Anneli Salmikangas, of Finland, as vice chairwoman, for a three-year mandate.

Schneider is a physician by training, specializing in immunology and rheumatology. He is currently head of division for European Union cooperation/microbiology at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, in Langen, Germany, and an expert in quality and safety of biological medicines, clinical trials and risk mitigation strategies for first-in-man clinical trials, and nonclinical development of biotechnology-derived medicines. He has significant experience in comparability of biotechnological medicines, and chairs the EU's working party on biosimilar medicines.

Setting out his priorities for the next three year, Schneider said, "Our common goal is to establish this committee as a strong and internationally recognized independent committee; a committee that fosters innovative medicines and gathers scientific expertise and skills, while it collaborates effectively with the other scientific committees at the European medicines agency to perform top-level assessment in the best interest of patients."

Salmikangas is the chairwoman of the EU's cell-based products working party and a member of its biologics working party. She is responsible for marketing authorizations of biological medicinal products at the National Agency for Medicines in Finland, and associate professor in biochemistry at the University of Helsinki.

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