As part of an ongoing outreach program of the American Soybean Association (ASA) Biotech Working Group, ASA Board member James Andrew, a soybean producer from Jefferson, Iowa, and ASA Consultant Benno van der Laan visited Brussels, Belgium in early December, for meetings with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and with officials from the main political groups.

Informing MEPs on the safety and environmental benefits of biotech-enhanced crops is critical to maintaining U.S. soybean exports to the European Union valued at $1.6 billion annually.

The objective of the meetings was to strengthen relationships with a range of influential, newly-elected MEPs and with key parliamentary advisors in the European Parliament’s relevant Committees at the beginning of Parliament’s five-year mandate.

"During this mandate, the issue of biotech-enhanced crops is certain to be discussed in the Parliament," Andrew said. "As such, it is important for ASA to reach out to MEPs and their staff to bring them up-to-date on the importance of U.S. soy for European agriculture, the benefits of biotech-enhanced soybeans, and the problems for the EU livestock and poultry industries associated with the EU’s slow approval process and zero tolerance for traces of unapproved biotech events."

The ASA delegation described the development pipeline for new soy biotech events planned to be commercialized between now and 2020, and against this background, urged MEPs to put pressure on the European Commission and the governments of the EU Member States to speed up the EU’s approval process and to introduce a tolerance for traces of unapproved biotech events.

"The EU’s current legislative framework and procedures are creating serious obstacles to trade as witnessed by the complete shutdown of U.S. soy imports between June and the beginning of December during 2009 as a result of traces of non-EU approved biotech corn that were found in U.S. soybean shipments to Europe," Andrew said. "I pointed out that Europe’s feed and livestock industries were also very concerned about this issue, given their reliance on U.S. imports between October and March."

The ASA delegation also briefed MEPs on added value biotech soybeans that will soon come to market, many of which will have quality traits that will have more direct consumer benefits.

The level of knowledge of MEPs and staff, and their support for biotech varied considerably, but all welcomed ASA’s initiative and the information that was provided.

For 2010, the ASA Biotech Working Group is planning further MEP outreach programs to solidify existing relationships and to build contacts with additional politicians and staff.