Growing Voices encourages consumers to rethink GM crops

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A high-level panel of politicians, researchers and campaigners including Owen Paterson (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK) and Patrick Moore (a founding and former member of Greenpeace) called for European consumers to engage more proactively in the GM debate, at the launch of a the new Growing Voices online platform.

Growing Voices is a new digital forum developed by bio-industry trade association EuropaBio to help consumers learn about the reality of GM crops, while giving a greater voice to the many non-industry supporters of this advanced plant breeding technique. EuropaBio’s hope is to facilitate dialogue between consumers and non-industry experts from farming, academia, politics, the food chain and other groups.

Nathalie Moll, Secretary General of EuropaBio, said ‘We recognise that more needs to be done to share information about how agricultural biotechnology offers tangible benefits to farmers around the world and to society at large. We hope that the launch of the Growing Voices website is a step towards direct communication with EU citizens,’ said Nathalie Moll, Secretary General at EuropaBio.

The event in Brussels, hosted by the Member of the European Parliament Julie Girling, was attended by over 100 invited guests and featured a keynote speech from Paola Testori Coggi, Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Consumer Policy, followed by presentations and a panel discussion highlighting the health and consumer benefits agricultural biotechnology can offer. 

At the event five projects involving GM technology aimed at improving nutrition and fighting against food insecurity, were presented by scientists and end-user groups, such as the Spanish Coeliac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity Association. Some quotes from the invited guests at the event included:

The Rt Hon Owen Paterson, MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK: ‘GM offers real opportunities to develop crops that provide better resilience to extremes of weather and land conditions. There is the potential to add extra nutrients that can directly help people in developing countries who are vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies in their diets. As the world’s population continues to increase, access to these technologies becomes even more important’.

Julie Girling, Member of the European Parliament: ‘The EU has one of the strictest legal frameworks for approving GM products. Having said this, many of these products are still not allowed onto the EU market despite the strong scientific evidence proving their safety and efficacy. As a result many key industry players have already moved their GM production and R&D facilities out of Europe. This is a cause for concern, as the current backlog of EU authorisations could lead to a further significant decline in R&D in Europe with possible far-reaching consequences not only for our farmers but for the EU economy as a whole.’

Ingo Potrykus, Professor Emeritus, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology: ‘The Golden Rice project is a timely and important demonstration of the possibilities of GM technology. The technology has been used to solve an urgent need and to provide a clear benefit to the consumer, especially to the poor and disadvantaged. Scientifically unjustified regulation provides a lever for ideological activists to hold millions of poor hostage in a campaign for political power and money. As long as society listens to activists instead of to scientific consensus the technology cannot fulfil its social promise.’

Macy Merriman, Senior Manager, Biotech and Government Affairs, DuPont Pioneer: ‘Plenish high oleic soybeans are the first biotech product to bring value across the entire supply chain – from farmers to consumers. The improved, healthier oil profile allows food companies and industrial product manufacturers to bring enhanced, improved products to the market that benefit the consumer and the environment. Plenish is nothing short of a re-invention of soybean oil.’

Patrick Moore, Co-founder and former member of Greenpeace, Allow Golden Rice Now! campaign: ‘Genetic science has been the key to the development of Golden Rice, which has been proven in nutrition studies to deliver beta carotene to both adults and children. It can only improve the health of the 250 million children who are deficient in vitamin A, with no harm to the environment. Golden Rice is a good example of how our knowledge of genetic science can be used for the betterment of society.’

Jonathan Napier, Professor, Lead scientist on the oilseeds enriched in omega-3 project, Rothamsted Research: ‘One of the problems with the current supplies of fish oils is that fish stocks are a diminishing natural resource. The case for GM derived Omega 3 fatty acids is stronger probably than any other example of a GM derived product because this is an example that is of benefit to the consumer, a healthy product, but also of benefit to the environment. The finished product has the potential to represent a sustainable, terrestrial source of fish oils, which is really exciting’.

Dr. Claude Fauquet, Director, Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century: ‘The Cassava plant is an important source of food for the African population. The diseases that attack the plant lead to a loss of 50 tons of food per year, making countries import even larger quantities of food. Employing genetic engineering and solutions using engineering for these diseases would be highly beneficial for both consumers and farmers.’

José Romão Braz, Vice-President, Finançor SGPS S.A. and FEFAC Council member: ‘We need leadership in Europe to change the policy regulating GM technology and a synchronized approval system with our commercial partners. We need biotech to improve our competitiveness in the world market.’

Dr. Juan Ignacio Serrano-Vela, Researcher at the Coeliac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity Association in Madrid: ‘Since gluten is present in majority of foodstuffs, ensuring a gluten-free diet for coeliac sufferers is a huge challenge. Foodstuffs specially made for people intolerant to gluten are expensive and have a poor nutritional quality. Fortunately, novel biotech approaches for gluten-free crops may preserve the nutritional quality and good baking properties of gluten-containing cereals.’

Sven Ove Hansson, Professor, Mistra Biotech, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm: ‘The strict regulation introduced many years ago we justified because GM was a new technology and there were uncertainties. Now we have the experience and the knowledge to asses the safety of each individual use of biotechnology. Unfortunately, however, we still have legislation that deals with the uncertainties of decades ago, but is not good at dealing with new uncertainties.

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