Icelandic Biotechnology Start-Up Might Lose Its Chance Skip to content

Icelandic Biotechnology Start-Up Might Lose Its Chance

Björn Lárus Örvar, the CEO of ORF Líftaekni, an Icelandic start-up company in the field of biotechnology, worries that his company might lose its shot at earning export revenue this year because he is still waiting for a permit from the Environment Agency of Iceland (UST).

CEO of ORF Líftaekni Björn Lárus Örvar. Photo by Geir Ólafsson.

The company requires a permit for its experimental cultivation of genetically-manipulated barley at Gunnarsholt in the south Iceland municipality Rangárthing ytra. Four types of proteins from the barley can be used to produce medicine and are extremely valuable, and could therefore create hundreds of ISK billions in export revenue, Morgunbladid reports.

ORF Líftaekni submitted an application for a permit at the beginning of March this year, and UST had 90 days to process the application. The deadline was last week. “To extend the deadline means that it will be very difficult for us to sow seed. I don’t think any farmer will sow seed after June 1. To us it means that we won’t have any crop this fall,” Örvar said.

The Icelandic Institute of Natural History has given the project a positive review and the majority of members in a consultancy committee, appointed by the Ministry of the Environment, also gave their approval.

Örvar stated that UST is thorough in its work methods but that it is under pressure to not grant the permit to ORF Líftaekni.

Karl Karlsson at UST dismissed such claims, explaining to Morgunbladid that everyone’s interests ,must be considered and that it is not the agency’s concern whether cultivation can begin this year—if the application had been submitted earlier, a decision would also had been reached at an earlier stage.

Gunnar Á. Gunnarsson, one of the members of the consultancy committee, voted against the project, arguing that such a basic decision on the relations between people and nature cannot be made until after an extensive and open discussion.

Iceland’s regulations on genetically-manipulated organisms are obsolete, Gunnarsson pointed out, since a directive on this subject adopted in the European Union in 2007 has not yet taken effect in Iceland.

Furthermore, a risk assessment is lacking, Gunnarsson reasoned, including its impact on animals, microorganisms, ground water and other items in the area where the barley is supposed to be grown. Additionally, it has not been proven that it is possible to isolate the genetically-manipulated organism, he concluded.

Click here to read more about ORF Líftaekni.

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