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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

European Union (EU) Biotechnology Policy Making Progress

Crop and Soil Environmental News, September 1997

Charles Hagedorn
Extension Specialist

Europe Approves Engineered Crops

Belgium-based Plant Genetic Systems (PGS) has received marketing approval from the European Commission (EC) for two varieties of genetically modified canola. The EC decisions are based on a qualified majority vote in favor of approval by a regulatory committee of national experts. The approvals follow promises made by PGS to ensure extensive labeling of the varieties. In a letter sent to the EU Environment Commissioner, PGS committed to indicating on seed bags sold to farmers that "because of the...genetic modification, specific labeling requirements may be applicable for the harvested material." PGS also promised to "provide information relating to the {varieties} produced by or under license from PGS outside the EU, to those companies that are known to import into the EU oilseed rape seed for processing." These promises were necessary because the EU has not yet developed a uniform policy regarding labeling of food products that contain ingredients from transgenic crops.

Transgenic Tomato Involved in Protection from Cancer

A team of European scientists has developed a vitamin-rich transgenic tomato they hope can help prevent heart disease and cancer. They also hope the genetically engineered tomato will be more acceptable to Europeans frightened by the idea of transgenic food. The researchers used the same technology created by Calgene to develop the Flavr Savr tomato. The new European tomato contains increased levels of carotenoids, nutrients important to health. It has about four times the normal levels of beta-carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A, and twice the levels of lycopene, the compound that helps make tomatoes red and a close cousin of beta-carotene. Other researchers in Spain and Germany are working with the same technology on peppers. Similar research is also being done in other labs to create rice rich in beta-carotene and lycopene for agricultural production in countries where naturally vitamin-rich vegetable are scarce. Beta-carotene and lycopene are anti-oxidants--they counteract the effects of molecules known as free radicals which can damage cells, leading to cancer, heart disease and other harmful effects.

Hungarian Genetics Bill Requires Genetic Technology Labeling

The Hungarian government has recently approved the countryís first bill on genetic technology. The bill will come into effect pending parliamentary approval. It will require laboratories dealing with genetic technologies to be pre-approved and all genetic technologies to be subjected to risk analysis. Companies or organizations using genetic technology will fall under the same liability rules as hazardous industries. In addition, genetically modified organisms would have to be registered and food containing genetically modified components would have to be clearly labeled.

EU Stalls Use of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST)

A decision to allow the use of a genetically-engineered growth hormone that encourages cows to give more milk (rBST) has been deferred for two years to allow in-depth scientific research. The decision, made at the recent Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting in Geneva, followed a heated debate between the European Union and North American delegates. The U.S. and Canada supported a Commission proposal allowing the use of the genetically-engineered growth hormone. The EU is opposing the proposal because the adoption of a standard that would allow the use of genetically-engineered growth hormone in milk production could pave the way for a U.S. challenge against the EU at the World Trade Organization.

European Biotechnology Industries Develop Ethical Guidelines

EuropaBio, the industry association representing some 600 companies actively engaged in biotechnology in Europe, is inviting public comment on a draft statement of its membersí "core ethical values." Critics have suggested that these principles could be used by the EU as the basis for regulations that are so strict that the biotechnology industry in Europe will not be competitive. The list of general principles and those related to agriculture are included below:

General Principles:

We are committed to realizing the potential of biotechnology for the benefit of humankind.

We use biotechnology with full respect for the rights of individuals.

We will communicate and share information about biotechnology and its derived products, their benefits, and their potential risks in an open fashion.

We will engage in a dialogue with those who may be concerned about ethical and societal implications of biotechnology.

We place priority on health, safety, and environmental protection in the manufacture and use of all our products and services.

We oppose the use of cloning to reproduce human beings and will not undertake it.

We respect animal welfare by working to reduce their use in research and any disproportionate suffering to them.

We oppose the use of biotechnology to make any weapons and will not develop products for that purpose.

Principles for Agriculture, Food, and Environment:

We support transparent product information to promote informed consumer choice.

We promote efficient and sustainable agriculture.

We develop improved agricultural products which enhance the worldís food supply.

We support the transfer of technology between developed and developing countries, respecting their cultural heritage.

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