The European Commission's recent proposal for a national opt-out on biotech approvals is receiving mounting criticism from both biotech opponents and supporters, including calls for the proposal to be withdrawn.
The latest round in the skirmish was fired this week by EuropaBio, an association for European bioindustries, which issued a white paper emphasizing the importance of a science-based regulatory system, the integrity of the European Union (EU) single market and genuine consumer choice.
"Getting opposition from both sides is usually a good indication you've blundered into a place you shouldn't be, and right now that's where the Commission finds itself," said Floyd Gaibler, U.S. Grains Council director of trade policy and biotechnology.
"A single market is important to all factions in the EU, and the commitment to a science-based system is essential for Europe's trade partners, and for progress on T-TIP (the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). The national opt-out is a threat on all three fronts."
Among the key observations from EuropaBio are that Europe is already heavily reliant on imported genetically modified (GM) crops, especially cotton and soybeans; Europe relies on imports for more than 80 percent of its vegetable proteins; European farming is less sustainable because of the non-adoption of biotech; and public opinion in Europe is not monolithic.
One study found that only 8 percent of European consumers spontaneously expressed any concern about GM in food. In late April, the Commission proposed legislation to allow individual member countries to restrict or block the use of imported genetically modified crops even after their approval by the European Food Safety Agency and the EU Commission itself.
Biotechnology advocates believe this would amount to an abandonment of a science-based regulatory system in favor of a frank acceptance of politicized rulemaking - and acceptance of disruptive and costly fragmentation of the European market.
Biotechnology opponents mirror that concern, but with a twist. Their fear is that countries opting in - giving their producers and consumers greater access to global markets - will gain important price advantages, which would, in turn, put severe pressure on holdouts. This acknowledges that blocking use of GMO imports imposes heavy costs, and that European consumers will respond to price incentives.
The national opt-out proposal must still be considered by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The final outcome remains uncertain at this point.