Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I spoke at the EU parliament...

I just returned from Brussels after a seminar at EU parliament on “The impact of EU GMO-regulations on biotechnology research for the public good”. I had very little time to indulge in Belgian chocolates but listening to the experienced and prominent speakers made up for it. What more, when given an opportunity to make an intervention... When did I ever imagine that I would speak at the EU parliament?

This seminar was organized by the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI) and the Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel (STOA) of the EU Parliament to address the constraints the public research sector face due to the stringent regulatory situation in many countries, particularly in the EU. The seminar discussed how current regulations and policies impact the potential for the public biotechnology sector. It was chaired by Prof. Antonio Correia de Campos, who is the STOA Vice-Chairman and a Member of European Parliament (MEP), jointly with Prof. Marc Baron van Montagu, the chairman of PRRI. Prof. Dr. El-Beltagy, Chair Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) gave a very comprehensive account of climate change and how green biotechnology can help in producing plants and crops that can survive the adverse effects of the climate change.

Ms. Maive Rute, Director for the Biotechnology, Agriculture and Fisheries and Food Directorate, European Commission (EC) gave a very positive account on how biotechnology, especially GM technology can benefit Europe. Dr. Emilio Rodriguez from EC’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) presented the experiences with GM crops in Europe, its economic and productivity impact. Dr. Piero Morandini from University of Milan gave a very emotional and passionate presentation on the many case studies where potential research is halted at the laboratory level due to restrictions on field trials in Europe. He presented the difficult experiences being faced by European public researchers due to the GMO regulation in Europe.

I commented on the need for EU to be mindful with the regulations and policies on GMOs as the rest of the world, especially emerging economies perceive EU as a role model when drafting their own regulations, Acts, and policies. Debates and decisions made in EU parliament is echoed in many part of the world, thus, EU should lead in the right direction based on scientific consensus. It was heartening when Dr. Beltagy acknowledged my views and further strengthened the points made. NGOs made intervention on why they oppose GMOs, but the speakers and chairpersons were quick to rebut their negative comments with facts and data. An activist from a well-known NGO said that they oppose GMOs as these are monopolised by MNCs. The strange thing is that the same NGOs press governments for heavy penalties and stringent law that only MNCs with deep pocket could effort, leaving the public sector researchers out of the game. How then, the public sector could compete with MNCs and break the monopoly? What are their genuine reasons for opposing GMOs... only they know!

The seminar was attended by industry representatives, MEPs, NGOs, scientists, and regulators. The STOA committee members who are also MEPs and European Commission representatives made presented very balanced views on GMOs based on scientific facts and evidence. PRRI certainly created a milestone in EU with this seminar. Hope we see wind of change.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

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