BRUSSELS, Belgium - In a speech to the European Parliament last week, Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, spoke again of the dilemma the EU faced in updating its regulations on biotechnology.

"We urgently need to adopt the new framework legislation on the deliberate release of GMOs," he said, alluding to the ongoing attempt to refine the basic 1990 EU rules on marketing biotech products. "This framework strengthens and improves the existing one, and it is important that we achieve a balanced response that helps restore both public and market confidence."

Prodi was responding to French President Jacques Chirac's vision of what France would be doing during its six months in the chair at meetings of the EU Council of Ministers (which started on July 1). Chirac spoke of making the EU relevant to its citizens. Prodi backed his sentiment: "Another important issue of concern to the citizens is the use of genetically modified organisms and biotechnology. We have to ensure a high level of protection for human health and the environment while at the same time allowing society to benefit from the development of modern biotechnology."

EuropaBio Cites Positive GM Attitudes In U.S.

EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries, is still struggling to boost sympathetic understanding in Europe of biotechnology, in the hope of reversing the trend toward an increasingly negative regulatory and political environment.

Its latest public gesture is to highlight recent figures from the U.S. that appear to show confidence there in genetically modified crops remains undiminished. It cites U.S. Department of Agriculture expectations that the acreage of genetically modified or improved crops for the year 2000 will remain at about the same level as last year, with genetically improved crops being grown on 69.6 million acres, as compared to 70.3 million acres in 1999. This means, it said, that total GM acreage has remained stable over the last two years.

"It is obvious that U.S. farmers continue to be confident about improved seeds and increasingly prefer the biotech alternative, which allows them to better manage their crop production," EuropaBio said. GM maize acreage is expected to drop, it accepts, but it points out that this is due not to any loss of confidence, but to a decreased occurrence of the European corn borer pest in many parts of the American Corn Belt. "This year's decrease in corn borer has made farmers decide not to buy GM seeds, which are in fact an 'insurance' against a problem which, at least this year, does not exist."

Italians Consider Defying EU GMO Rules

The Italian Minister for European Affairs, Gianni Mattioli, has told European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne that his government may refuse to allow national access to a number of GMO-derived products marketed in the EU - in defiance of EU rules about the single EU market. The products (oil, flour, starch and gluten made from maize or rapeseed) are created via genetic engineering techniques, but no longer contain GMOs in their final stage.

Italy will invoke a safeguard clause under the 1997 EU regulation on novel foods. It claims these products are not "substantially equivalent" to conventional food in composition, nutritional value, metabolism, intended use and level of undesirable substances, and therefore cannot be marketed in Italy just on the basis of the opinion of other EU member states. Byrne has forwarded the Italian claim to the EU's Scientific Committee for Food.

Search On For New EuropaBio Head

EuropaBio has confirmed that it is searching for a new secretary general. Anthony Arke, who had been running the organization for three years, officially ceased working there at the end of June. Pending the appointment of a new chief executive, Erik Tambuyzer of Genzyme Corp. is acting as secretary general.

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