What was heralded as a turning point for accepting biotech crops in the European Union (EU), now almost appears to be a farce.
When the EU decided to allow imports of Syngenta's biotech Bt-11 sweet corn last spring, many breathed a sigh of relief. It was the first biotech approval in six years. Was the EU finally making strides to end its five-year moratorium on approval of new biotech crops?
The U.S. had earlier asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to force the EU to end its ban. The U.S. claims the EU policy violates global trade rules. The EU, of course, claims its not violating any trade laws.
Have we been duped?
Now, with the new Bt-11 sweet corn approval, it appears the EU, indeed, is following the rules. That is, unless you dig deeper.
Syngenta submitted the regulatory dossier for Bt-11 sweet corn as food in the EU in Nov. 1998.
According to WTO rules, says Kim Nill, technical issues director for the American Soybean Association, “If the EU approves one new biotech product, they're no longer considered to be blocking biotech's progress.
“In this case, they (EU) knew Syngenta wasn't going to actively market sweet corn there,” he says.
BT-11 is still being marketed here in the U.S., but very, very little is being exported, says Sarah Hull, Syngenta spokesperson.
“It's not a commercially significant event (biotech product) for us in Europe,” she adds. “It did not have major financial implications for us — at all.”
The fallout, then, is that the EU has as much as two to three more years before they'll have to fully approve another biotech product to remain in compliance with WTO rules, Nill explains.
Since the EU approved the sweet corn, it essentially ends the offending action which ends the moratorium.
“The farce Bt-11 approval has given them (EU) breathing space,” says Nill. “This whole approval issue has taken a step backward. It's a joke.”
The EU regulatory system seems to be moving forward at a quicker pace, says Helen Inman, chair of the National Corn Growers Association Biotechnology Working Group and farmer from Bancroft, IA. “But,” she says, “we've been frustrated at the slowness of the process and have a long way to go before the moratorium on biotech products is effectively ended.”
Currently, there are about 30 genetically engineered products and foods in the pipeline awaiting approval for import into the EU. “Even if they march forward at one every six months, it's just too slow,” says Nill. “The products are already outdated in the U.S. by the time they get through the approvals.”
What makes the whole approval process even more frustrating is that once products are approved, they have a 10-year shelf life and then need to be renewed. “Since Roundup Ready crops were introduced in 1996, those products are up for renewal in 2006,” Nill says.
Fair trade continues to be the issue here. Still, being an optimist, I'd like to think any forward movement is progress. Stay informed and support associations that work to get you a fair shake.
At press time the EU was on its way to approving the second corn event, Monsanto's NK603 for feed and industrial use in the EU. NK603 cannot be marketed until the commission approves the application for food use, which could be delayed until October or November.