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Biotech report 2012 - Agricultural biotechnology industry overview - EY - Global

What Europe has to offer biotechnology companiesAgricultural biotechnology industry overview

The market value of biotech crops worldwide was more than €10b in 2011.

Worldwide, the agricultural biotech industry grew by 8% in 2011.

Last year, crops were planted on a total of 160m hectares. Some 16.7m farmers around the world planted these crops, which was also a rise of 8% over 2010.

Indeed, 2011 was the 16th year in which biotech crops have been commercialized.

It is the fastest-growing crop technology in modern times.

According to market research and consultancy provider Cropnosis, in 2011 the market value of biotech crops worldwide was more than €10b, up from approximately €8.8b in 2010. This represents more than one-third of a commercial seed market worth €28b.

Of the 29 countries planting biotech crops in 2011, 19 were developing economies and 10 were industrialized nations. In terms of biotech crop cultivation, the five leading developing countries are China, India, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

Collectively, they grew nearly half of global biotech crops in 2011, and are home to 40% of the world’s population.

In Europe, only two biotech crops are authorized for cultivation: an insect-resistant maize and a potato for industrial use. Such crops were grown in eight countries across Europe during 2011: Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, Romania, Poland and Sweden.

The number of hectares of the only genetically modified (GM) maize permitted to be cultivated in Europe increased from 91,643 to 114,607 in 2011 – an increase of more than 20% over the previous year.

Europe is a net importer of biotech crops in the form of feed and food because of its relatively small output. Some 22 biotech crops are currently awaiting authorization for cultivation in the EU, including maize, soybean, potato and sugar beet.

The approval process remains the biggest challenge for the industry. Compared with other countries around the world, it is slow and cumbersome.

Because of the uncertainty facing the industry, the number of agricultural biotech companies in Europe is understandably small.

Legislative overview

EU legislation on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has been in place since the early 1990s. This specific legislation follows two main objectives:

  1. Managing possible human health and environmental risks
  2. Ensuring the free movement of approved GM products in the EU

The entire corpus of GMO legislation was amended in the early 2000s, leading to the creation of a new legal framework. Essentially, GM crops cannot be put on the market without prior EU approval, whether for importing a food or feed product made from GM crops or for planting GM seeds.

The EU approval system is widely recognized as one of the most stringent in the world.

Overview of GMO approval system

  1. Risk assessment is done on a case-by-case and step-by-step basis, fulfilling the requirements laid out in the legislation
  2. When the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has completed the environmental, human and animal health safety assessment based on the risk assessment, its opinion, if positive, forms the basis of a Draft Decision. This is subject to approval by the European Commission after voting in Standing Committees which are composed of representatives from the Member States.
  3. Post-release monitoring plans need to be approved prior to marketing the product. Traceability is ensured by labeling and administrative records throughout the food chain. Food that contains more than 0.9% GMO or GMO-derived content must be labeled.
  4. Throughout the approval process, information is provided to the public.

It takes on average almost four years for a GM import approval to be completed in Europe, which is roughly twice as long as in other jurisdictions.


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