BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The draft European Parliament report on the future of the European biotechnology industry ran into trouble when it was discussed in the European Parliament's Committee on Industry last week.

Environmentalist and left-wing Euro-MPs attacked what they saw as the strong pro-industry stance adopted by Euro-MP John Purvis in the way he had drafted the text. They accused him of minimizing the risks and maximizing the potential of the industry, and of ignoring the many fears that biotechnology raised.

However, Euro-MPs from the center and right-wing parties in Parliament gave their backing to the broad thrust of the report during the committee discussion. They applauded its call for a more encouraging environment for entrepreneurs in the European biotechnology industry, and for a more open-minded European attitude to innovation. The committee is scheduled to vote on the report at its next sitting, on Feb. 27, and the text will then go to the Parliament as a whole for endorsement or further modification.

U.S. Mission Comments On EU Biotech Law

Adding to the current wide range of overviews of the EU's complex biotechnology legislation, the Office of Agricultural Affairs of the U.S. Mission to the European Union has just published a new summary. It notes that four laws currently govern the regulatory review and commercialization of genetically modified foods in the EU.

But, as the U.S. Mission points out, none of these regulations makes clear with any precision which products processed from GMOs must be labeled, what testing methods apply, or even how a product can be determined "GMO-free."

It urges U.S. exporters to work with EU member state authorities to register their products and to obtain insight into the member states' interpretation of EU rules. Another regulation, which entered into force in April 2000, provides specific labeling requirements for food and food ingredients containing additives and/or flavorings that have been genetically modified or have been produced from GMOs, as specified in Directive 90/220/EEC.

U.S. Welcomes EU-U.S. Forum Conclusions

The U.S. Department of State welcomed the report of the U.S.-EU Biotechnology Consultative Forum, concluded at the end of 2000.

It agrees with the report's statement that "modern biotechnology holds the promise of dramatic and useful advances in some of the areas of greatest challenge for humankind during the 21st century." And it said the views expressed in the report "promote understanding of some of the complex issues that exist between the U.S. and EU concerning biotechnology."

The State Department analysis is that the consensus reached in the forum "demonstrates there is common ground for discussing biotechnology both between the U.S. and the EU and among the many non-governmental groups concerned." The report will be useful "as one element in our continuing discussions with the European Union on biotechnology," discussions conducted also at the government level, in international fora, and with civil society groups, the State Department said.

The U.S. view focuses on the report's bullish endorsement of vigorous and independent scientific enterprise, and of biotechnology's potential, particularly "meeting the food and nutrition needs of a growing world population." It applauds the recommendation for increased U.S. and EU public funding in sustainable agriculture and nutrition research, and expresses interest in ensuring training in biotechnology for specialists in the developing world.

EU Agriculture Ministers Face GM Protests

Friends of the Earth (FoE) campaigners demonstrated outside the European Council building in Brussels on Monday to support calls from the Austrian and Italian agriculture ministers for the immediate labeling of genetically modified animal feed.

While EU agriculture ministers met inside the building, campaigners stopped the traffic with a herd of placard cows carrying placards saying, "Don't make me mad - label all GM feed now."

Since the banning of meat and bone meal in the wake of Europe's mad cow crisis, imports of animal feed crops such as soya and maize from the U.S. are expected to increase, and FoE said it fears that much of this may contain GM material. The group insists that farmers and consumers have a right to know what is being fed to animals, particularly in light of the BSE crisis, and that labeling would allow them to avoid GM animals.

FoE is openly critical of what it calls the failure of the European Commission to meet its promises for presenting new novel feed rules, which means, it said, "that unless emergency measures are taken, no legislation will be in place in member states until 2002 at the earliest."

Plants Committee Clears Syngenta's Maize

The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Plants has cleared Bt-11 GM maize from Syngenta (formerly Novartis Seeds SA) for cultivation. This BT-11 maize line, authorized for processing, food and feed production, is resistant to lepidoptera insects and tolerant to glufosinate ammonium herbicides.

The committee was asked to consider if its cultivation in the EU is likely to cause any adverse effects on human health and the environment. Its conclusion matches a similar finding when the committee assessed the possible adverse effects of the same GM maize line in February 1998 for the purpose of grain import and use only. After that evaluation the commission authorized the marketing of the maize grain for use as any other maize grain.