But worming away within the EU are other forces. The second item below is from the Prakash list. Here Mark Cantley, an Adviser in the Research Directorate-General, of the European Commission, reassures his fellow pro-GMers that 'we in Europe are strongly committed to biotech, and have a clear strategy for its promotion and diffusion.'
Prior to the Commission, Cantley used to head the Biotechnology Unit in the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry.
Cantley's position on GMOs is so extreme that he argues they are 'inherently safer and more precise' and so require no special regulation at all: 'I accepted fully the OECD report, published in 1986...which inter alia recognised, "that there is no scientific basis for specific legislation to regulate the use of recombinant DNA organisms".... Nothing that has occurred during the subsequent 12 years has invalidated those judgments'.
In a Spiked online debate he wrote, 'Pretending 'GMO' means something special - for seeds, vaccines, enzymes, pesticides, etc - is daft.'
1.France’s Chirac says not yet ready to accept GMOs
2.EU Strategy for Life Sciences and Biotech
---France’s Chirac says not yet ready to accept GMOs
June 16, 2003
PARIS - French President Jacques Chirac last week said the conditions for his country to accept genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were not yet fulfilled and that each country should be left free to accept or refuse them.
GMOs are a sensitive issue in the European Union. The bloc has a moratorium on the growing of GMO crops, which has now been challenged at the World Trade Organisation by the United States.
At the end of May, ahead of the Group of Eight summit in Evian, U.S. President George W. Bush had urged the European Union to drop its opposition to GM crops pioneered by U.S biotechnology firms.
Chirac said it was to early for that.
"We have to make sure that GMOs answer real needs and that the precautionary principle is respected," Chirac told an international meeting of young farmers in Paris.
"To me, these conditions do not seem to be fulfilled today."
He also rejected the idea that a policy be imposed on France in this matter.
"Each country should be able to make the choice (of adopting GMOs) as a sovereign nation and in a responsible way," he said.
Two misrepresentations are gaining ground in AgBioView, which I'd like to correct.
First, we in Europe are strongly committed to biotech, and have a clear strategy for its promotion and diffusion.
Second, we are keen on the precautionary principle, but not on seeing it misrepresented and misapplied, as in the July 1999 letter to Nature by SÃ¸ren Holm and John Harris, reproduced in AgBioView of 14 June.
First, on the strategy: the European Union has a strong commitment to the life sciences and biotechnology, and is implementing the 30-point Action Plan published with that strategy, in February 2002. The full text is available online at
The "first year progress report and future orientations" was published March 2003, and is available at
This strategy, based on a year's inter-service work and widespread consultation through 2001, is now overseen by a Biotechnology Steering Committee with wide representation. We could argue details, e.g. on the weight of regulation, but there is no doubting the basic positive thrust. And the strategy, formulated by the European Commission, received wholehearted backing from the European Parliament, and (on behalf of the 15 Member Countries of the EU), the Council of Ministers.
Second, on the precautionary principle: or, if American readers prefer the phrase, the "precautionary approach": the European Commission spelt out its understanding of this in a 27-page communication in January 2000, available in full at
There's a three-page summary at the front; but the core of it is given in the following six-point quotation from that summary:
"Where action is deemed necessary, measures based on the precautionary principle should be, inter alia: 1) proportional to the chosen level of protection, 2) non-discriminatory in their application, 3) consistent with similar measures already taken, 4) based on an examination of the potential benefits and costs of action or lack of action (including, where appropriate and feasible, an economic cost/benefit analysis), 5) subject to review, in the light of new scientific data, and 6) capable of assigning responsibility for producing the scientific evidence necessary for a more comprehensive risk assessment."
Please note the inherently DYNAMIC character of this statement, as new scientific data emerges from research, and experience increases. In fact, the classic example of the precautionary approach in action was the international debate on the safety of recombinant DNA which took place from 1973 to 1986, culminating that year in the publication of the OECD "Blue Book" ("Recombinant DNA Safety Considerations: Safety considerations for industrial, agricultural and environmental applications of organisms derived by recombinant DNA techniques"); still available online at the OECD website.
By no coincidence, that was also the year when the US confirmed its "Coordinated Framework" - basis since then of their regulatory strategy for biotech. Critics of biotech please note: we have had a 30-year-long international public debate on the safety of modern biotech.
- Mark Cantley, Adviser in the Research Directorate-General, of the European Commission
"Each country should be able to make the choice (of adopting GMOs) as a sovereign nation and in a responsible way" - President Chirac