Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson
A major stated goal of the European Union is to integrate and support ecological sustainability, job creation and competitiveness as stated in the form of the Lisbon objectives. These goals are supposed to be reached by means of research programmes and incentives, including programmes on biotechnology, but how plausibly does research in fact support these objectives? The EU biotech strategy is due for review in 2007, and to coincide with this Friends of The Earth (FOE Europe) has published a new report: The EU’s Biotechnology Strategy: mid-term review or mid-life crisis? which questions the likely contribution of EU biotech programmes to the Lisbon objectives.
The FOE report identifies a number of failings. Firstly, the EU research strategy fails to distinguish adequately between different fields of biotechnology: the so-called green (agricultural), red (medical) and white (industrial) strands of biotechnology, each of which has widely differing prospects. Of these, the report criticises the performance and objectives in particular of green biotechnology in terms of sustainability and job creation and it suggests that the poor performance of green biotechnology is being masked by political pressure to support it. As a review of the relevant UK research council (the BBSRC) has pointed out, “there is little or no evidence to date that the high level of investment in plant science is having a significant impact on strategic and applied research in crop science” (BBSRC review 2004) . Even in the US (where consumer resistance to transgenic foods is negligible and labelling is not a major issue) for all the billions of Euros spent, only two transgenic traits have achieved significant market success.
The FOE report proposes that the current EU biotechnology strategy has little economic justification, is a high risk strategy and is sidelining proven, agricultural production methods that are sustainable, economically, ecologically and socially and which therefore do already meet the Lisbon goals.