2 November 2001

Work together or youll lose out

GROWERS, scientists and the industry must work together to convince the public and politicians of the benefits of biotech, says BASFs head of Plant Science, Hans Kast.

Already, UK and European farmers are losing out on crop advances that could cut the cost/t of production due to political procrastination, he maintains.

Moratoria on trials and rigorous EU regulations have allowed the US and the rest of the world to pull further ahead with how to implement transgenic technologies in the field.

While recent amendments to the EU "Deliberate Release Directive" 90/220EEC, which must be written into member states legislation by Oct 17 next year, should overcome the trials and release impasse in Europe, they will impose even more restrictions on progress, he says.

But if that is what is necessary to allow the biotech industry in Europe to start to move forward again then the sooner it is implemented the better, he says.

Head of the University of Hanovers Institute of Molecular Genetics, Hans-Jörg Jacobsen, echoes his concerns about the amended directive. Provisions for transparency and public involvement risk allowing deliberate delaying tactics, he says.

But the good news, he says, is that the approach of releases on a case-by-case, step-by-step basis remains. A time limit within which the competent authority within a member state must decide whether to grant permission for a release has also been set at 90 days.

Dr Kast compares the situation with biotechnology to that with semiconductors in the 1970s. Europe had the science and skills to become the world production centre, but politics drove those skills away and the US and far-east have dominated that market ever since.

Now, biotech risks going the same way, he warns. "The result is that there is a breakthrough in technology coming and the EU might not be part of it."