Supporters of genetically modified crops should concentrate on keeping officials in much of Europe from demonizing the agriculture methods so the benefits reach developing countries battling hunger, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientist said.
Roger Beachy, head of the National Institutes of Food and Agriculture, said the argument that biotech crops boost yields falls on deaf ears in much of Europe given flat population growth there. Instead, government farm ministers in Europe increasingly must consider the potential of genetically modified, or GM, crops to alleviate hunger in the developing world.
"They are starting to recognize now that they are having a negative impact on Africa, and the poor countries this does impact," Beachy said in an interview on the sidelines of a Soyatech global grain and soybean transport conference in Minneapolis.
Yet he doesn't see any significant breakthroughs on the horizon for the acceptance of GM crops in Europe. The concern is European attitudes toward the technology will influences global views, stunting the use of GM crops in other countries.
"I see progress, but I stopped saying 'five years more,' about three years ago," said Beachy, whose work with Monsanto Co. (MON) in the 1980s led to the development of the world's first genetically modified food crop, a tomato.
He said biotech's role in "sustainability," a key concern in Europe, is starting to gain greater recognition with GM crops helping to reduce water and energy use on large farms.
Still, the European Union has all but banned GM crops at a time when seeds modified to add resistance to pests and weeds have seen increased use elsewhere, including the U.S. and South America. The continent's overall attitude on biotech crops in Beachy's view is "schizophrenic." Eastern European countries such as the Ukraine want the opportunity for better yields and increased exports, while western European countries remain resistant.
Last week, Europe's farm ministers rejected a controversial E.U. proposal allowing member states to make their own decisions on whether or not to ban GM crops as a way out of deadlock. A final decision on the plan now rests with E.U. environment ministers who meet Oct. 14 in Luxembourg.