Brussels, 17 April 2002
Following the destruction of an experimental field trial with genetically modified colza in Alost, Belgium, last week, the latest in a series of recent attacks on field trials across Europe, European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin today expressed his firm disapproval for these acts of violence. Field trials are conducted for developing genetically modified as well as conventional plant varieties. The plant trials destroyed during the attacks had been authorised by Belgian authorities and were carried out under the appropriate health and safety conditions, in full compliance with EU and local legislation. Plants targeted by vandals had been modified through new, more precise and efficient genetic methods. Adding the same genes through conventional plant breeding methods is a far more imprecise and longer process. If carried out in the proper safety framework, promising GMO technologies are expected to enhance EU performance in health, environmental and agricultural policy.
"This is an example of ignorance and prejudice leading to illegal acts of violence, that in the long run can only deny society the benefits that scientific progress will bring about", said Commissioner Busquin. "The freedom of research is a fundamental value in democratic societies. This kind of research is key to overcoming suspicion and uncertainty about such crops. If we do not invest enough in GMO research, our ability to innovate and assess potential risks could be hampered. Ultimately, European citizens will be the losers."
Field research on genetically modified crops has virtually come to a halt in most EU countries. Last year, the Commission's Joint Research Centre, which monitors these activities in co-operation with EU Member States, received 88 notifications for genetically modified field trials (1). This is to be compared to an average of 1500 field trials carried out annually in the US. Stopping all GMO research in Europe may make the EU more dependent on key technologies developed elsewhere. Benefits are not only related to agricultural production improvements. A promising application of genetic modification technologies is the development of plants with medical or therapeutic properties.
Should Europe stop nurturing know-how and expertise to turn these technologies into market products, and without appropriate research into the potential impact of genetically modified plants on the environment, it will be difficult to know whether they can bring about real benefits to EU citizens and consumers. Some leading EU companies in this field have already closed down their research facilities in Europe, and others have stressed they could relocate research activities overseas, should the situation get worse.
Commissioner Philippe Busquin, for his part, insists that an open, science-based dialogue between all stakeholders, for and against GMOs, is indispensable. On 18 April 2002, the Commission will host the second meeting of the Round Table on GMO safety research. The Round Table brings together European bio-safety researchers and other stakeholders, such as consumer organisations, environmental NGOs, national administrations and industry. Over 15 years, the Commission has been supporting 81 bio-safety research projects for a total EU funding of €70 million. The projects involved over 400 teams from all parts of Europe.
For further information please see:
Information on the Round Table is available at http://biosociety.cordis.lu/
Notifications for GM field trials in Europe received since 1991
DN: IP/02/577 Date: 17/04/2002
DN: IP/02/577 Date: 17/04/2002