Lack of support for GM and biotech hampers trading
EUROPEAN farming could become a backwater unless consumers embrace biotechnology and genetically modified crops, according to multinational agricultural firms.
Delegates at the inaugural European Association for Bioindustries (Europabio) conference in Amsterdam spoke of their frustration at the lack of support from the European Commission and EU member states.
The industry estimates that if biotechnology took off in Europe it could lead to 3m people employed in a £175.5bn market by 2005. But companies are warning that they are prepared to look elsewhere if Europe closes its door to biotechnology.
Ed Veltkamp, spokesman for Unilever, called on the EU Commission to look again at its EU novel foods regulations because of the confusion over which GM products should be labelled.
At present, the EU says "non-equivalent" products should be labelled, but, because of a lack of an official EU interpretation, member states have interpreted this differently leading to the establishment of trade barriers. "We believe labelling should be driven by differences in the product, not by origins of technology," said Mr Veltkamp.
Pierre Hocholi, spokesman for Monsanto Europe, said the company aimed to launch 40 new GM products involving maize, soya, potato, rice, timber and cotton products over the next few years. But unless consumer concern was overcome, there would be a shift in investment to other parts of the world such as south America and the Far East.
Mr Hocholi revealed the extent of Monsantos licences for farmers growing its GM Roundup Ready soya beans in the United States, which will account for 10% of the world soyabean crop in 1997.
Farmers are being asked to pay a technology fee of about £12/ha (£5/acre) and sign a contract not to farm-save the seed, which the company argues gives it full traceability but also prevents the farmer from using a generic equivalent.
Walter Beversdorf, spokesman for Novartis, said improved communications to allay the fears of environmentalists, consumers, and food processors in Europe were essential, particularly as the world had only just started down the biotechnological road.
"We are at the beginning of biotechnology, seen through herbicide tolerance and delayed ripening, and are moving into insect tolerance and hybridisation. Aspects such as new plant genome construction will come later in the next century."n