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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Europe and science, 10, 2008-the return of the GMOs

In today's edition:
  1. Report: EU trade deals 'threaten' wildlife
  2. France hopes to break GMO deadlock by December
  3. EU food safety watchdog backs piecemeal approach to nanotech risk assessment
  4. EU business R&D funding growth higher than in US
Please, read the 2d article. I can't but be amazed by the position of France. The worst is that I don't think somebody payd them to defend GMOs, I think they really feel a duty to apply WTO rules. I can't but hate their weakness. And when someone puts WTO before national wellbeing, I get very very angry.

Report: EU trade deals 'threaten' wildlife

21 October 2008

The much-hyped trade and development agreements currently under negotiation between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries could put forests and the livelihoods of communities dependent on them at serious risk, argues a new report by Friends of the Earth.

The NGO warns that the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) designed by former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson would impose an economic model on developing countries based on the export of raw materials that could seriously devastate their forests and wildlife.

One of the most controversial elements of the agreements highlighted in the report is an obligation for developing country signatories to lift rules limiting the export of logs and other raw materials. This already seems to be happening in Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon, which have initialled interim EPAs, according to the report. In addition, a requirement to liberalise investment in the forestry and agricultural sectors would give European corporations improved access to ACP natural resources, potentially leading to deforestation and the expulsion of small farm owners in favour of more export-oriented agriculture.

Although the EU has acknowledged the adverse environmental effects of trade liberalisation in previous Sustainability Impact Assessments (SIA), any mention of the impact on forests is conspicuously absent from SIAs of EPAs, Friends of the Earth points out. The bloc is overlooking "some very serious environmental and social concerns" by prioritising access to natural resources in order to safeguard European competitiveness and is sacrificing its commitment to sustainable development in the process, it states.

The NGO urges the EU to seriously rethink its trade strategy towards the developing world after new Trade Commissioner Baroness Ashton takes over (EurActiv 21/10/08). It believes that now is the right moment to act, as the passing of the 2007 deadline for the EPA negotiations and reluctance to sign off the ACP with little to gain mean that the political pressure to continue has diminished.

The EU says it wants to put an end to global forest cover loss by 2030, with a 50% reduction in tropical forest destruction by 2020. Last week, it proposed to set up a new global fund, known as the Global Forest Carbon Mechanism (GFCM), which could provide developing countries the incentives necessary to undertake actions against deforestation (EurActiv 20/10/08). Deforestation accounts for 20% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The EU chose to negotiate EPAs which guarantee trade reciprocity as it became clear that preferential arrangements with the ACP were no longer feasible following the expiry of the legal WTO waiver on 1 January 2008. source

My comment: I agree it's very very suspicious to not mention the forests problem. Especially after the latest news on GFSM (see above). It looks like just the next try to abuse undeveloped countries.

France hopes to break GMO deadlock by December

21 October 2008

EU envrionment ministers continued to disagree on whether member states should be allowed to establish GMO-free zones for sensitive areas, although they did concur on the need for better long-term environmental risk assessment of GMOs.

After the Council's inability to either approve or reject GMOs for over a decade, the European Commission is now free to authorise them based on a special regulatory procedureexternal .

But both the procedure and the role of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have been targets for criticism (see EurActiv 05/12/05 and 10/03/06), and the Commission has decided to introduce practical changes to EFSA's GMO-approval process (EurActiv 12/04/06).

Several member states have also repeatedly invoked an EU safeguard clause enabling them to suspend the marketing or growth on their territory of GM crops that have EU-wide authorisation. But the EU executive has never substantiated their applications and has always ordered them to lift the national bans.

Following a number of informal discussions earlier this summer, the EU-27 environment ministers debated the bloc's GMO authorisation procedure in a Council meeting on 20 October.

But member states clashed on the issues of protecting sensitive and protected territories and establishing GMO-free zones. Some delegations underlined that the current legislative framework already allows for such protection measures if there is scientific evidence of risk.

Others would like to retain control of their national territories and see the subsidiarity principle better respected in this regard, allowing them to establish GMO-free zones for sensitive eco- and agro-systems.

According to the French Presidency, the ministers agreed on the need for better long-term environmental risk assessment. Several delegations also said the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) guiding principles should be revised. Its safety assessments would always take account of the latest research findings as scientific knowledge evolves.

As for including socio-economic considerations in the GMO authorisation process (such as cost-benefit analysis of the possible consequences of GMO seeds entry into the overall agricultural system), ministers described this as both an "important" and a "complex" issue. They underlined that if such criteria were to be considered, they would need to respect EU's obligations vis-à-vis the World Trade Organisation. Furthermore, some member states underlined that such measures would never replace scientific evaluation as the main authorisation criteria.

The ministers also underlined that there was no exact definition of socio-economic criteria linked to GMOs. Therefore, an EU-level methodology framework could be elaborated to identify and evaluate such criteria.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace argues that member states should be allowed to establish GMO-free areas and implement measures to avoid seed contamination. It argues that the EU's current authorisation process is "fundamentally flawed since it ignores the long-term effects of GMOs, evidence on their biodiversity impacts, diverging scientific opinions and concerns from EU member states".

Therefore, the NGO calls on environment ministers to ensure that EU legal requirements on GMOs are respected and that "environmental risk assessments are carried out by independent bodies with the necessary scientific expertise". source

My comment: Ok, I have one thing to comment on the Greenpeace position. It leaves the impression that we know the long-term effects of GMOs, while we actually don't. What we know is that they DO affect biodiversity in a very negative way. But on humans-we're far from knowing what exactly is going on.

I'm against approving the GMO they way they are now, but let's be fair and rational. They should be banned not because of some fictional damage, but because of their actual damage and effect on people, also the lack of proper understanding of the way genes combine in human cells. I just posted a very nice article on viruses, in To The Future with Love, and it's very visible that genetics isn't so separable-or not to the extent we would like to think it is. And if viruses do take genes from their hosts and mix them up and then transplant them to new hosts, I think it's CRUCIAL for us not to mess with the system until we understand it properly. Because those crops are different and they really need attention and research. For me, they should stay in research phase for at least 10 more years.

EU food safety watchdog backs piecemeal approach to nanotech risk assessment

20 October 2008

Existing toxicity testing approaches can be used for case-by-case risk assessment of nanomaterials in food, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which says there is limited data available on oral exposure to nanoparticles.

The EFSA scientific committee's draft opinionPdf external on whether existing risk assessment approaches can be appropriately applied to nanotechnologies in the food sector concluded that current toxicity testing approaches used for conventional materials are "a suitable starting point for case-by-case risk assessment of ENMs [engineered nanomaterials]."

However, the opinion published for public consultation on 14 October notes that the available data on oral exposure to specific ENMs and any consequent toxicity is extremely limited and "possible risks arise" as a result of their particular characteristics. Indeed, their small size increases their ability to move around in the body in ways that other substances do not and their high surface area increases their reactivity, notes EFSA.

The authority thus recommends that whenever risk assessment guidance documents in the food and feed area are reviewed "nanotechnology aspects shall be considered". Such EU legislative review is currently underway on food additives. Another recommendation calls for further research to address current uncertainties to strengthen the evidence base for risk assessments.

The opinion, published for public consultation on 14 October, is not a risk assessment of nanotechnologies as such or of their potential application, but rather a "generic" view of their use.

Tentative applications of this new technology by the food and feed sector include improved food packaging, traceability and monitoring of quality, modification of taste and fat content and enhanced nutrient absorption.

The draft opinion was commissioned by the European Commission, whose regulatory review on nanotech earlier this year concluded that the current EU legislative framework covers the potential health, safety and environmental risks of nanomaterials "in principle", but that changes in legislation may become necessary as scientific knowledge on the issue grows.

The public consultationexternal on the opinion is open until 1 December 2008. source

My comment: Yeah, very firm position, right :) Whatever, this is a lost cause.

EU business R&D funding growth higher than in US

16 October 2008

Statistics show that corporate investment in research and development (R&D) has grown in the EU for the third year running, surpassing the growth rate for private sector funding in the United States.

The EU 2008 Industrial R&D Investment ScoreboardPdf external , published on 15 October, shows that the rate of EU business R&D investment growth increased by 8.8%, up from last year's figure of 7.4%. At the same time, the rate of investment growth for US companies dropped sharply from 13.3% to 8.6%.

"EU companies are almost closing the gap in R&D growth rates compared to all non-EU companies," the Commission said in a statement.

"In particular, companies in the energy field are rapidly increasing their R&D investments, responding to the need to make more efficient use of limited resources," said Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik.

However, the commissioner deplored that the total share of the bloc's corporate R&D "remains at 1% of GDP [nearly 2% in the US], amidst signs that EU companies are making an increasing share of their R&D investments outside Europe". According to him, increased efforts are needed to build a single European research market to attract more business R&D and reach the Lisbon objectives.

Indeed, the EU is aiming to spend 3% of its GDP on research and development activities, with 2% coming from the private sector.

The scoreboard comprises the world's top 1,000 EU basedPdf external R&D investors and the top 1,000 non-EU basedPdf external companies. The US-based companies Microsoft, General Motors and Pfizer are the world's top three investors.

In the EU-only ranking, Nokia, Volkswagen and Daimler occupy the top positions. They also made the world top-ten, in fifth, ninth and tenth position respectively.

Regarding sectoral trends in business investment, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, technology hardware and equipment, and automobiles and parts account for more than half of the world's R&D.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas production sector showed the highest one-year growth rate, at 22.9%. source

My comment: Funny, they invest more, but they invest outside Europe. Very productive investment! I won't comment here, since I'm very disappointed by the R&D politics of EU. It simply sucks!

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