CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Europe is closed for business when it comes to biotechnology, and its position will not change in the near future, an English farmer said at the recent International Biotechnology Symposium.

Paul Temple, a third-generation tenant farmer from Driffield, East Yorkshire, England, who planted biotech crops for three years before the EU ruled against the practice, spoke of the frustration “because from a distance the biotech business looks closed.”

“Most farmers have actually never seen (genetically modified) crops in the field in Europe. Most farmers don’t even consider growing GM crops because we’re not likely to grow them. It isn’t part of our equation, so it looks closed,” he said.

Temple said EU farmers are unaware of the global acceptance of biotech crops and don’t know of the amount of investments made in research and development.

“There is no government investment in programs on GM crops in Europe. There isn’t any government R and D that’s going to take this onto European fields,” he said.

“It backs up this feeling that Europe is anti-science, so we’re seeing major companies now walking out of Europe. BASF shut their trial facilities down, and recently we heard that Monsanto was not going to register those traits. These are really negative symbols.

“Farmers are as misinformed as the public. We live in the age of sound bites and Twitter, which is very useful for bits of information, but the kind of complicated background information that you need on this subject is sadly missing.”

Most European consumers, politicians and farmers are unaware of the need for protein imports.

“We are major importers. You often hear farmers saying, ‘Why don’t we grow them ourselves?’ Well, we can’t,” Temple said. “We might grow about 3 million tons of vegetable protein, but we import in excess of 30 million tons.

“We are hugely dependent on imports, the majority of which is GM, and it’s an act of hypocrisy that as farmers we see products coming in, but we aren’t allowed the opportunity or the choice of growing them.

“The import authorization is complex, and it’s political. The real risk for me as a European is that we end up with an uncompetitive livestock sector. We are dependent on protein trade, and if we upset the trade, we run the risk of damaging our livestock sector.”

Labeling is a contentious issue in Europe, and there has been a movement in the U.S., including legislation proposed in Illinois, to label GM-derived products.

“I tend to think that if you began to label it, some people wouldn’t understand. Retailers in the United Kingdom have dropped the GM-free feed requirements,” Temple said.

“We have identity-preserved, GM-free soya, but it’s significantly more expensive. The choice exists for the consumer in organic form, but we haven’t seen the public migrating to it. The public doesn’t really care.”

The biotech crops problem in the EU boils down to politics, according to Temple.

“Spain has adopted the use of GM crops. It’s had them for 10 years. It sorted out its supply chain and hasn’t had any problems,” he said.

“France was doing exactly the same until (then-President Nicolas) Sarkozy as an act of politics banned (GM crops) from cultivation. Despite the fact that the court ruled this ban illegal, the moratorium was held, and the currently president has reinforced his desire to maintain the ban. That’s the kind of negative news we have within Europe.

“Romania before it joined Europe was growing GM soya and exporting soya, but on joining the EU, it couldn’t grow it and now imports.”

The Directorate General for Health and Consumer Affairs of the European Commission overseas the GM portfolio.

“Every EU country provides a commissioner and sadly are not proving strong enough to make any form of leadership through this whole process,” Temple said.

Despite the commission’s stand, food safety never has been an issue.

“We have a European Food Standards Agency, and often its advice is ignored when it’s subjected to the political process,” Temple said.

He said there sadly is no hope for a change in the near future.

“We are noticing language changing with our politicians where there is support given strongly within the UK, but it is getting rid of the problems in Europe that will be the problem,” he said.

“We are seeing retailers dropping a visible opposition, but they’re not taking a visible profile of the necessity and possibilities if biotech is available.

“EU will remain import dependant. We are seeing limited trials of GM crops in field situations now. There are wheat trials in the UK. But the cost of policing the trials is actually more than the trial itself, so it has a long way to go.”

Despite the EU stance, biotech crops are recognized as being potentially vital for food security and sustainable intensification, and world-class science continues to be conducted in laboratories across Europe.

“The problem at the moment I don’t see how it will get out of the laboratories and into the fields. Politics is our pipeline blockage,” Temple said.

“Farming constantly needs new science to harness landscapes, new science to deal with and mitigate climate change and the volatility that we’re seeing and new genetics for progress. Farming needs new business models that adapt the technology.”

He said young farmers will need to do things “very differently from the way I’ve been able to do them and the way my parents were able to do them — the challenges they face will be far greater than I could ever imagine.”

Temple defined food security as global production and trade.

“Biotechnology that I’ve seen on my own farm offers the potential to solve problems, and it was with great frustration that after three years of growing it I had to stop because it was solving problems,” he said. “Europe simply fails to offer farmers choice.”