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Stalemate in Europe - opposition hardening (18/2/2008)

1.No qualified majority to approve GM potato and GM maize types
2.BASF gene-altered potato is dividing EU
3.GMOs: Unmodified opinion in Poland

EXTRACT: Experts say that some countries may even be hardening their longstanding opposition to the technology. 'The debate in Europe appears to be heading toward stalemate,' Jacqueline Mailly, senior European regulatory affairs adviser at the law firm Hogan & Hartson in Brussels, said. 'If you take the Austrians, for example, they now appear to be standing firmer than ever against biotechnology.' (item 2)

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1.EU clashes over authorising GMO maize types, potato
Reuters, Feb 18 2008
http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssIndustryMaterialsUtilitiesNews/idUSBRU00631520080218

BRUSSELS, Feb 18 (Reuters) - European Union farm ministers fell short of a consensus agreement on Monday to allow imports of five genetically modified (GMO) products, paving the way for default approval by legal rubberstamp, an EU official said.

The products were four insect-resistant GMO maize types, including three hybrids developed by U.S. biotech company Monsanto Co from existing GMOs. The other maize, GA21, is marketed by Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta.

The other GMO product was a high-starch potato made by German chemicals group BASF and known as Amflora.

None of the five GMOs is intended for growing in Europe's fields but for use in food and animal feed. The applications for EU approval will return to the European Commission for a default approval, allowed under EU law when ministers fail to agree. (Reporting by Jeremy Smith; editing by Dale Hudson)

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2.BASF gene-altered potato is dividing EU
By James Kanter International Herald Tribune, February 17 2008
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/02/17/business/potato.php?page=1

PARIS: Call it Europe's hottest potato.

The Amflora potato looks like any garden-variety spud, but it has been genetically modified by the German chemical giant BASF to be unusually rich in starch. It also has aroused concerns that sick people and the elderly could become more vulnerable to disease because there are fears that the potato could trigger resistance to certain antibiotics in humans.

'The biotechnology industry threatens to set an extremely worrying example if it wins approval for this potato,' said Patrice Courvalin, the head of the Antibacterial Agents Unit at the medical research center Institut Pasteur in Paris. 'We should keep trying to prevent dissemination of antibiotic resistance rather than to allow products into the food chain that could potentially make a bad situation even worse.'

European Union governments are touchy about the potato, too.

On Monday, EU farm ministers are expected to hit a deadlock over whether to authorize the potato, exposing a deepening rift between those Europeans who say gene-altered products are a boon to farmers and to industry, and those who say that the technology is potentially hazardous to humans and could pose dangers to the environment.

Officials at the European Commission, the EU executive, already have deemed the potato safe. These officials want to introduce more gene-altered products into the EU to normalize trade relations with countries like the United States, and to lower costs for farmers.

But many governments in Europe are extremely wary of continuing distrust among those citizens who consider gene-altered products to be 'Frankenstein' foods. Experts say that some countries may even be hardening their longstanding opposition to the technology.

'The debate in Europe appears to be heading toward stalemate,' Jacqueline Mailly, senior European regulatory affairs adviser at the law firm Hogan & Hartson in Brussels, said. 'If you take the Austrians, for example, they now appear to be standing firmer than ever against biotechnology.'

Mailly said countries like Austria originally opposed gene-altered products on principle and for scientific reasons, but that they now were backing increasingly vibrant traditional farming and organic producers who see the introduction of gene-altered crops as a threat to their way of life and brand identity.

BASF developed the Amflora potato to yield large quantities of starch suitable for making glossy paper products and for feeding animals.

BASF worked jointly to develop the potato with the European starch industry, which was seeking to improve its competitiveness.

The license fees for the potato eventually could earn BASF up to 30 million, or $44 million, annually if allowed onto the European market, said Susanne Benner, a spokeswoman for the company. So far, she said, Amflora has not been planted commercially anywhere in the world.

BASF included the controversial marker gene during the development of the potato as a way of identifying plant cells that successfully produced the desired type of starch.

EU officials recommended putting the potato onto the market after the European Food Safety Authority, an agency in Parma, Italy, that reports to the European Commission on food safety issues, said that antibiotics affected by the marker gene - kanamycin and neomycin - had none, or only a minor relevance to medicine.

On Friday, Mireille Thom, a European Commission spokeswoman, reiterated that the 'potato does not pose a problem to human or animal health or to the environment.' But scientists like Courvalin and the environmental group Greenpeace said that the EU and the food safety authority were badly out of step with other health bodies.

They pointed out that the World Health Organization in 2005 classified the antibiotics affected by the resistance gene as 'critically important' and that last year the European Medicines Agency, a regulatory agency for medicines based in London and also known as EMEA, said that classifying the antibiotics 'as of no or only minor therapeutic relevance' was wrong.

In its conclusions, EMEA also noted that the antibiotics could become extremely important in treating certain forms of tuberculosis.

Courvalin said he was concerned that if the gene passed to bacteria in the environment or in the gut of animals that ate the potato and it then evolved, antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains could appear with the potential to have a negative effect on human and animal health.

Courvalin said that it had not yet been proven that such genes from genetically modified organisms could transfer to human bacteria, but he stressed that lack of evidence did not mean it would not happen.

He said environmental and gut bacteria can be responsible for human infections in a growing portion of the population that includes people having surgery, those with AIDS, those being treated with chemotherapy and, most important, the elderly.

The biotechnology industry, which insists that its products are as safe as non-gene-altered equivalents, has long been frustrated by delays in approving such products that cost it time and money, and block access to European markets.

Companies like BASF and Syngenta, which is based in Switzerland, say that an unfavorable political climate for gene-altered technologies is hindering the introduction of products that could make the region more competitive.

'Biotech crops are grown on nearly 10 percent of the world's arable land,' Stefan Marcinowski, a member of the board at BASF, said last week. 'Only Europe is increasingly lagging behind.'

The United States and Argentina have strongly backed the gene-altered industry by bringing complaints against Europe at the World Trade Organization - one factor that pushed EU officials to seek a way to make it easier to market biotech crops and foods in Europe.

Some farmers and meat producers also are pushing EU officials to back the technology as population demands, land scarcity and drought drive up the price of animal feed on global markets.

On Monday, the ministers will consider applications for four insect-resistant gene-altered types of corn used in food and feed, as well as the BASF potato. But a clearcut decision is unlikely: EU countries at similar meetings have failed to reach the majority needed to vote through, or completely reject, new approvals of gene-altered crops.

In such cases, the European Commission then is entitled to give its approval. That means that the potato could soon be on the market in Europe - albeit through a highly circuitous regulatory process. Even then, however, EU countries can invoke so-called safeguard clauses to block the cultivation or sale of gene-altered crops.

Although BASF could get backing from countries like Britain and the Netherlands that look favorably on gene-altered crops, it is unlikely to be sufficient for approval on Monday.

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3.Genetically modified organisms: Unmodified opinion
Warsaw Business Journal, 18 February 2008
http://www.wbj.pl/?command=article&id=40100&type=wbj

Poland will stick to the previous government's plans to ban GMOs in fodder

The Polish government will not amend the April 2006 act banning the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in livestock feed, Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki said at a recent press conference. The announcement came despite earlier plans by the Civic Platform-led government to change the incoming law to comply with European Union rules.

According to the legislation introduced by the previous government, farmers will not be allowed to use GMOs in fodder as of August 12 of this year. However, imports of GMOs will still be accepted with the proviso that they will be appropriately marked and will not be processed further.

The European Commission has taken the issue to the European Court of Justice, having found fault with the proposed law. It claimed Poland has not provided scientific evidence of risks to the environment or people. Poland therefore cannot exercise the right granted by the EU rules to apply a 'safeguard' clause against GMO products.

However, the Government Information Centre (CIR) of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister released a statement that the Polish government would take the EC's decision to the Court of First Instance. It claimed that the EC took too long to reject the draft act on GMOs. Moreover, the EC made the decision on October 12 last year but neglected to tell Poland for months. The government hopes for an annulment of the decision.

Earlier this month the minister announced that Poland would make planting of GMO seeds almost impossible for local farmers. 'We will delay the farming of genetically modified animal feed as much as possible because there is no social acceptance for it,' the Agriculture Minister told Reuters. According to a Greenpeace survey, as many as 76 percent of Polish consumers are against GMOs.

Sawicki added, 'According to EU law we cannot forbid it but we can make it as difficult as possible, setting additional requirements, such as obtaining permission by neighbors.'

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