Brussels, 07 May 2003
Europe already has a clear and reliable policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but opposition from Member States and other external factors are still thwarting its implementation, the EU's Commissioner for Research, Philippe Busquin, has claimed.
His comments came during a conference on 5 May, organised by the Friends of the Earth to discuss the timeframe for EU legislation on GMOs. Mr Busquin stated that the European Community has made considerable progress in developing policy in the area of life sciences and biotechnology for more than 20 years. Recent achievements include the 2002 EU strategy on life sciences and biotechnology, the inclusion of GMO safety research in successive research framework programmes, a new GMO directive on traceability and labelling of GMOs, and the establishment of a European network of GMO laboratories.
Yet despite such progress, delays in the implementation are ongoing. Mr Busquin explained that European institutions have no intention of dictating European policy to the Member States: 'We have to win the political support and agreements from policy- and decision-makers at national level. Frankly, the precautions taken at national level have slowed us down, and have caused frustration among scientists in universities and businesses.'
One such precaution is the de facto moratorium on GM products in Europe, which has been imposed since 1999 and has led to growing public opposition to GMOs. Mr Busquin said that the European Commission had done its share of the work and it is now up to Member States to take the necessary decisions to turn the situation around. 'Once the moratorium is lifted, new products that have already been approved or are in the process of evaluation can be brought into the market,' added Mr Busquin optimistically.
While public authorities are expected to shoulder most of the responsibility of putting together viable policy frameworks, the Commission argued that the agrofood industry could also make a more concerted efforts to inform the public about GM products. Similarly, scientists and scientific policy-makers at EU and national level also have a role to play in informing the public and other stakeholders such as farmers, national administrators and the media about the research and evaluation of GMOs in food and food related substances, claimed the Commissioner.
However, Mr Busquin warned that debating the subject should not result in slowing down progress in the field of research. Already, public hostility towards GMOs has led to a downturn in research in this field, with public and private research bodies leaving Europe for an environment that favours such research. 'It is crucial that Europe maintains its capacity and scientific expertise in the field of GMO research and development,' stressed the Commissioner.
In light of this situation and in an effort to reinforce the GMO scientific base, the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) has allocated over 600 million euro for research into food quality and safety, and more than two billion euro for life sciences and biotechnology for health.
Finishing on an optimistic note, Mr Busquin said that acquiring new knowledge in the field of life sciences and biotechnologies should help reverse the current tide of opinion. '[...] knowledge is not a poison. We wait with interest to see [this knowledge] spread and grow [...] in the coming years.'