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Science tsar questions lack of GM approvals in Europe

Science tsar questions lack of GM approvals in Europe

Europeans strongly oppose GM products—to the point that, some say, requiring products to label any GM ingredients amounts to a de facto ban. But at least one EU scientist stands up for the potential benefits of GM technology and urges his country to examine all angles before passing judgment. 

The UK government’s influential chief scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington, has admitted he feels “uncomfortable” that so few genetically modified (GM) crops have been given the green light for use in the EU.

Writing in Bite, a magazine published by the UK’s regulatory watchdog the Food Standards Agency, Sir John highlights the fact that in the past 13 years the European Commission has authorized only one GM strain for cultivation.

This is despite the fact that the European Food Safety Authority, which assesses applications for GMOs to be approved, has deemed others also to be safe.

Sir John says the “increasingly polarized” debate about GM crops in the EU is to blame for the Commission’s reluctance to approve them. He argues: “This has led to what could reasonably be described as an overly precautionary approach in political spheres, particularly within the EU.”

He adds: “From my position as government chief scientific adviser, I find this situation quite uncomfortable. I believe new technologies in the food system, such as GM, should not be excluded a priori. If we have new technologies that can actually solve problems in agricultural production, which conventional breeding or other technologies cannot, then clearly we need to be thinking about adopting them.

“Alongside this, the health and environmental safety of any new technology must be established rigorously before its deployment. Any such decision-making process should be set out transparently, and consider competing risks, including the potential costs of not utilizing a new technology and the benefits this will bring.”

The topic of GM crops is a contentious one in Europe. Unlike in the U.S., EU law states that any GM material in a product must be mentioned on the label. With a majority of European consumers opposed to GM food—or at best suspicious of it—this has amounted to a de facto ban.

Read Sir John’s article in full and others on the same subject.

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