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Corn+Soybean Digest

Biotech Takes A Step Forward

Science-based biotech information is beginning to prevail in the European political community.

Over the past couple of years we've written a variety of articles on the often-controversial subject of biotechnology. Our stance, especially in this column, has been to support the science-based technology.

Still, with all the positives that biotech offers — like the ability to use fewer and safer chemicals — it's a contentious issue that keeps raising its ugly head. And as you know, that's been particularly true in Europe.

Now there's a bright spot from across the pond that could make the sticky subject just a little less tacky.

By a vote of 338 to 52, the European Union (EU) Parliament recently voted in favor of adopting new regulations on biotech approvals. This move should help pave the way for an end to Europe's moratorium on approving bioengineered seeds and foods that has been in place since April 1998. Member countries must now approve the measure.

The overwhelming vote came despite continued consumer wariness in the EU over biotechnology.

“The science community is now speaking in more of a positive way about biotechnology,” says Hans Hoyer, American Soybean Association Europe Regional Director. “On one hand, there's a certain hysteria in the minds of European consumers. On the other hand, there's optimism that the situation will improve.”

Under the proposed regulations, companies would apply for licenses and pass an approval process.

David Bowe, the British parliamentarian who wrote the bill, expects the earliest approval for a product to be about a year from now. He also believes this is “the beginning of the end” of the ban and speculates that varieties meant for animal consumption will likely win approval first. Currently, there are 14 (U.S. and/or European) farm products waiting in line for approval; among them are two corn hybrids.

Despite all the European food safety concerns, especially now with mad cow disease, science still seems to be winning out. In addition, while the U.S. is embracing biotechnology, it more than likely worries the EU that dragging its feet could put it in a clumsy position where it loses markets.

For U.S. farmers, this parliament measure is a step ahead in the political process by which the EU will approve the import of biotech products. Bigger picture? It's another signal that the world is recognizing biotech's benefits.

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