How to Kill Innovation Domestically

Or, be sure to regulate the process, rather than the product

In 2002, Europe establishing a new regulatory agency, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to resolve its regulation problems regarding GM crops and other food safety challenges. This new agency assesses the risk of the process used to create GM crops, rather than the products created by the technology. While EFSA undertakes the risk assessment, the approval of GM crops is a political one, made by the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed of the European Commission. To me, this decision has proven to be a disaster for Europe.

Since 2002, the Standing Committee has approved only one GM crop variety for production, a GM potato developed by BASF. EFSA has renewed production of two corn varieties and two carnation varieties. The GM potato was approved for commercialized in 2010, however, as it took 13 years to receive approval and was outdated by the time it was approved, BASF decided not to sell the product to the EU. The functional inability of the EU regulatory system to approve GM crops led BASF to move all of its plant biotech research to North and South America. The EU’s political regulatory system is a disaster, BASF’s move overseas has resulted in a loss of up to 900 scientific jobs.

Disaster in the EU, Success in Canada

By comparison, Canada has approved 85 new GM varieties since 2002. Why is Canada’s GM process so different from the EU? Canada regulates the product that will enter the market and doesn’t differentiate on what process was used to create the product. In other words, Canada regulated the what, not the how, while the EU has the holdup issue of how it’s produced. The decision to approve a GM variety is also made by the regulatory agencies, not a political committee of the government. Canada’s method assesses the risk of the product as compared to products that already exist in the market. If the new GM product is no riskier than those products on the market, then it is deemed to be scientifically equivalent and is approved for commercialization. This form of assessing risk evaluates all relevant risks in a timely and efficient manner and most importantly has been correct with all of the 119 GM approvals since the first one in 1995, as no environmental or human health risks have occurred.

What’s the big deal?

One might think, Europe is still commercializing new crop varieties, maybe not as ‘good’ as the ones in North and South America, but not too bad. Well, that’s true, but the biggest loss so far has been the cost in human capital. I wouldn’t be surprised if research scientists begin moving to other jurisdictions to be able to continue their cutting-edge scientific research, unfettered by political interference. Not only will the research scientists themselves move, but their entire research laboratory will move as well, such as the recent move of apomixes laboratory from the Leibniz Institute for Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research to the University of Saskatchewan.

It’s not only research scientists, but it is also young professors seeking faculty jobs in the West to continue doing research no longer possible in the EU. Graduate students from Europe are attending universities all over the USA and Canada to be trained and to develop the skills involving the best science possible. This makes perfect sense. If you were going to train to be a mechanic or a hairdresser, would you want to train to service today’s computerized cars or 1950 Studebakers or to style hair as they did in the 1960s? Yeah, I thought not.

With professors, graduate students and research scientists all seeking to relocate to America and other jurisdictions where cutting-edge science is allowed to proceed without stifling regulations, the ‘brain drain’ on Europe will be staggering. The ironic thing is, they only have themselves to blame as it is their own political actions that have driven their youth and their brightest to distant shores.

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