Why should scientists care about the European elections? Vicky Ford MEP explains


Over the coming days voters across Europe will decide who will be members of the next European Parliament.  In an article originally published in the April edition of the EPSO Newsletter Vicky Ford MEP explains why scientists should care about the elections.

The European elections will be held on the 22-25 of May 2014 and will determine the composition of the European Parliament for the next five years. Sadly, turnout in the elections is usually low which means that a small number of votes can make a big difference. The elections are an opportunity for the scientific community to have their say about who is going to make the big decisions that will affect the research landscape for years to come.

In the lab, at the heart of scientific research, it may be difficult to see why eurocrats in Brussels are significant. In fact, the EU Parliament has power to legislate in many different ways. All too often MEPs jump on the “ban-wagon”, limiting science instead of standing up for investment in research.

I was one of the 7 MEPs negotiating the Horizon 2020 research package worth €80bn. Despite an overall cut in the EU budget, science and research is the one area to have seen an increase in funding. We worked hard to simplify the application process, reduce time to grant and time to contract, and ensure that public money would be used to address societal challenges and to leverage in private funding, as well as get through to the best bids.

Researchers need MEPs who are prepared to listen carefully to the science and to act accordingly. Take GM for example. In the same way that medical drugs are assessed individually using risk-based decision making, GM research projects need to be evaluated individually. Golden Rice and blight-free potatoes are just two hugely exciting examples of where this science could take us and the research community needs strong politicians who can stand up for innovation like this.

Scientists shouldn’t sit back at election time. They need to elect MEPs who understand the value research brings to the economy and to society as a whole; who aren’t afraid to make decisions based on scientific evidence; and who will support international collaboration and investment in ground-breaking science. So use your vote wisely!


 By Vicky Ford MEP


Axess All Areas



EURAXESS, the support service for mobile European researchers, launched the “EURAXESS – Researchers in Motion Roadshow” on Monday at the European Commission in Brussels.  The Roadshow will visit 29 European cities in 22 countries during March and April (a full list of dates and venues is at the end of this article).

The tour will promote the EURAXESS initiative and distribute information and support to researchers working as foreign nationals in a European country, or those who are considering moving abroad.

The EURAXESS website hosts a comprehensive job portal, and recognizes that finding a job is just the first step for successful time working abroad.  Through a network of over 260 Service Centres in 40 countries EURAXESS offers support on details such as local working regulations, taxation, and social security.  The centres also offer advice on the more personal side of life abroad such as accommodation, language studies and schooling for children.

???????????????????????????????Some of the top rankings issues for mobile researchers are the compatibility of pension schemes between nations, getting academic diplomas recognized, and finding accommodation for short term stays.

“The bureaucracy and administration in each country are not easy deal with”, said Viktoria, co-ordinator of the Czech network for five years and now the North American representative.  “We were fighting with the ministry of external affairs in the Czech Republic to implement a scientific visa for non-Europeans.  It’s been a long journey, but we managed to do it, and it is much easier now for researchers to come without submitting so many papers to the embassy.”  She accompanied many researchers to the embassy in person to help them complete and sign the papers, which are all in Czech.

Research is one of the most mobile professions

She has also distributed more unconventional advice.  Some contacts have never left their home countries so they need extra help in deciding what to bring with them.  For example some locations in India experience temperatures of 45°C throughout the year, whereas during winter in Prague a temperature of -15°C is more likely.  “We told them to stick their hand in the freezer for a while”.

Nives, a Croatian post-doctoral researcher at the University of Liege said “It’s every researcher’s dream to study and work abroad.  They should make use of EURAXESS’ services”.

You can follow the EURAXESS Roadshow on their Facebook page and join them at the follow dates and locations:

Tuesday, 4th March Brussels/BE Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Wednesday, 5th March London/UK Queen Mary University London

Tuesday, 11th March Copenhagen/DK University of Copenhagen

Wednesday, 12th March Lund/SE Lund University

Friday, 14th March Poznan/PL Adam Mickiewicz University

Monday, 17th March Warsaw/PL University of Warsaw

Tuesday, 18th March Wroclaw/PL Wroclaw University of Technology

Wednesday, 19th March Prague /CZ National Library of Technology

Thursday, 20th March Vienna/AT University of Vienna

Friday, 21st March Bratislava/SK Comenius-University

Monday, 24th March Budapest/HU Corvinus University of Budapest

Wednesday, 26th March Bucharest/RO University of Bucharest

Thursday, 27th March Plovdiv/BG University “Paisii Hilendarski“

Friday, 28th March Sofia/BG University St. Kl. Ohridski

Monday, 31st March Thessaloniki/GR Aristoteles-University

Tuesday, 1st April Niš/SR University Niš

Wednesday, 2nd April Banja Luka/BIH University Banja Luka
Thursday, 3rd April Zagreb/HR University Zagreb

Friday, 4th April Ljubljana/SL University Ljubljana

Monday, 7th April Trieste/IT AREA Science Park

Tuesday, 8th April Milan/IT University of Milan

Wednesday, 9th April Zurich/CH ETH Zurich/University of Zurich

Thursday, 10th April Strasbourg/FR Université de Strasbourg

Tuesday 15th April Maastricht/NL University of Maastricht


Tuesday 22nd April Luxembourg/LU University of Luxembourg

Wednesday, 23rd April Bremen/DE University of Bremen

Thursday, 24th April Hamburg/DE Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron

Monday, 28th April Cologne/DE University of Cologne

Tuesday, 29th April Liège/BE Université de Liège

Wednesday, 30th April Brussels/BE Closing event Université libre de Bruxelles

GM-pollen in Honey: a constituent or an ingredient?


Post by John Davison, Research Director (retired), INRA Versailles, France.
WinnieIn 2011, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) made a judgement regarding the case Bablok and Others v. Freistaat Bayern(1). Honey produced on Bablok’s farm was supposedly found to contain pollen from genetically modified MON810 maize(2, 3). It should be noted that no accredited scientific evidence regarding quantification  of MON810 pollen in Bablok’s honey was ever published.

Based upon these ‘facts’, and with reference to Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003, the ECJ concluded Bablok’s honey contained ingredients produced from GMOs within the meaning of the regulation. The situation was further complicated by the fact that MON810 maize was authorized for cultivation and consumption but, at that time,  MON810 pollen was not authorized as food (this has now been rectified). The threshold for unauthorized GM-pollen is 0%.

The ECJ decision was taken without regard for the economic situation or the social consequences. Europe produces 200,000 tonnes per year and must import an additional 140,000 tonnes mainly from South America and China.  The ECJ decision was also taken without consideration for the safety of the honey since EFSA had long stated that pollen from maize MON810 is as safe as non-GM maize.

Under the  ECJ decision all honey produced in the EU would require GMO quantification. The costs would be which will be particularly high due to the 0% tolerance imposed by the ECJ and would be unsupportable by amateur EU beekeepers.  A European Parliament Report (EP)(4) stated The cost of the tests might even exceed current production costs per hive. It may even be that the introduction of the new requirements will prompt some amateur beekeepers to stop making honey’. As regards imported honey, which comes mainly from South America and China which are GMO producers, the honey would again require extensive and expensive quantification, since according to the ECJ decision, the EC authorizations are necessary irrespective of the proportion of GM material in the honey.

The result of the 2011 ECJ judgement was to spread confusion in the honey market, and as a result no decisions being taken for more than 2 years. Recently, the EC has attempted to defuse the situation by proposing that pollen in honey is not an ingredient but a natural constituent(4). The European Parliament (EP)(15/01/2014) has now agreed with this position(5). This would have the effect that labelling would be required only if the pollen in the honey exceeded 0.9% of the total honey. Since the % of pollen in honey is between 0.005 and 0.05 %, the 0.9% threshold would never be exceeded and labelling would never be required.

Unfortunately, as with most things European, ‘the show is not over until the fat lady sings’. The decision now passes from the European Parliament to the European Council and, even after that, it could be challenged in European courts (which was where it all started).

MON810 is the now only GM-plant commercially cultivated in the EU. On the other hand, non-EU countries, from which the EU imports honey, grow a variety of GM-crops that are not authorized in the EU. In the event that pollen from these crops found its way into honey then the tolerance threshold would be 0% (despite the fact that 0% cannot be measured by present scientific methods (6) ). This would then block honey export and create a honey shortage in the EU.

To terminate, one must ask what the ECJ, the EC and the EP believe that they are achieving. The ECJ and the EP make decisions where they have no competence and without regard, or knowledge, for the economic or social consequences. The EC, in contrast, has the expertise but suffers from constant political interference and compromise. Surely Europe is a better place with honey than without it and surely the life-style of bees and beekeepers is worth maintaining since it brings enormous benefits other than honey. A similar point has been raised by the EP rapporteur Julie Girling(7) I ask you this: do we really want to base legislation on a false premise and then subsequently force small-scale beekeepers out of business?’ Since Girling’s report was adopted by 430 votes to 224, with 19 abstentions, It seems that 36% of EMPs truly did prefer to destroy the European honey industry in deference to their anti-GMO sentiments.

Finally, to avoid polemic, it should be reiterated that this discussion is not about food safety (EFSA long ago made their recommendation on MON810 pollen). This discussion is only about the meanings of the words ‘ingredient’ and ‘constituent’ and the consequences of these meanings. “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” (Lewis Carrol, 1871).


1) Decision of the ECJ of 6 September 2011 (Case C-442/09) Karl Heinz Bablok v Freistaat Bayern. http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2011-09/cp110079en.pdf

2) Davison J. Honey-free Europe. November (2011) http://www.marcel-kuntz-ogm.fr/article-honey-free-europe-88522965.html

3) Davison John. The imaginary EU GM-Honey crisis is resolved (2012). http://www.euractiv.com/cap/imaginary-eu-gm-honey-crisis-res-analysis-515735

4) Gabriel Mariya. (2012) Draft Opinion of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development for the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directive 2001/110/EC relating to honey.


5) Parliament clarifies labelling rules for honey if contaminated by GM pollen (2014). http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/content/20140110IPR32407/html/Parliament-clarifies-labelling-rules-for-honey-if-contaminated-by-GM-pollen

6) Żmijewska et al. Pollen from
genetically modified plants in honey – problems with quantification and proper
. Journal of Apicultural Science Volume 57, 5-19 (2013) http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/jas.2013.57.issue-2/jas-2013-0013/jas-2013-0013.xml

7) Girling Julie. (2014) Honey debate at the European parliament http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+CRE+20140114+ITEM-012+DOC+XML+V0//FR&language=fr&query=INTERV&detail=2-663-000

Welcome to the EPSO Blog


Welcome to the EPSO blog, (catchy name, right?).  We hope in the coming weeks and months the pages of this empty space will fill up and provide an open forum for plant scientists to share their interests, thoughts and experiences, and be involved in a project allowing interactions across borders.

Whether you have read a recent paper that interests you, would like to write about a broader topic or theme, would like to practice scientific writing in English, or have a comment on the career and experiences of plant scientists then please consider contributing some writing to the blog.

We particularly invite young scientists to become actively involved and contribute to the running of the blog.

So please feel free to get involved and if you have any ideas or questions please contact us: calum.mackichan[at]epsomail.org