Negotiators for the U.S. and the EU are finalizing topics for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks that will begin in early July.  Biotech crops will certainly be one of the key issues for both sides.  A review to be published in the June issue of the journal Trends in Plant Science titled Paradoxical EU Agricultural Policies on Genetically Engineered Crops by researchers from Spain and the UK provides a minority view on EU biotech policies.

Case studies highlight regulations applied to foods grown in EU countries and identical imported products.  The EU is undermining its own competitiveness in the agricultural sector.  EU agricultural policy has laudable goals such as a competitive economy and regulatory harmony, but the outcome is a fragmented, contradictory, and unworkable legislative framework.  The authors recommend adoption of rational, science-based principles for the harmonization of agricultural policies and explain the role of biotech crops in achieving EU agricultural policy goals.

According to the authors, the suppression of biotech crops in the EU is ideological rather than scientific driven, and done to a large extent by the organic food industry.  The EU is becoming uncompetitive and isolated in the international markets, which thrive on innovation and technological development.  For example, the EU has banned many pesticides, but approves the importing of food products treated with the banned chemicals.  EU procedures for approval of biotech crops are the most restrictive in the world.  The Amflora potato took 15 years to develop, 13 of which were required for regulatory approval.

The final decision for approval of a biotech crop is political rather than scientific. A scientific opinion on safety must be sought from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the official and expert scientific body charged with the task of safety evaluation in the EU. The opinion is based on expert panels that consider the available scientific evidence.  Opinions of the EFSA are often ignored by national governments and the EU has recently approved a plan to allow governments an opt-out for the cultivation of approved biotech crops with no justification or evidence of risk.

EU policy officially supports the coexistence of biotech and conventional agriculture defined as the ability of farmers to make a practical choice among conventional, organic and biotech crops.  The regulations were developed in response to organic industry groups which claimed that adventitious presence could reduce the value of a conventional or organic crop. This implicitly recognizes that coexistence is about economic impacts and not health or environmental safety since no biotech crops can be grown without a safety evaluation by the EFSA.