21 September 2001

Be scientific on GMfoods

EU policy makers have been urged to stick to the scientific facts and not cave in to populist myth when it comes to licensing genetically modified foods.

Addressing this weeks informal meeting of farm ministers in the Belgian town of Alden Biesen, food safety commissioner David Byrne said biotechnology had the power to do much good in terms of protecting the environment and alleviating human suffering.

There was a need for enlightened policy decisions based on rational fact, said Mr Byrne.

Agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler added that, while it was important to respond to societys concerns, there was a need for strong leadership.

The bullish performances were intended to give a push to new commission proposals on the labelling and traceability of GM materials in the human food chain. These are awaiting approval by member states and the European parliament.

The commission is concerned that the EU is losing ground to the US in the development of new technologies due to a self-imposed moratorium, which has blocked all new GM approvals for the last three years.

Further pressure for the EU to be more proactive came from Tanzanian scientist John Monyo of the UNs Food and Agriculture Organisation – one of five experts invited to address the ministers.

"Among the many stumbling blocks confronting developing countries is the unprecedented opposition to GMOs by some elements of society, particularly those who have never had to sleep on an empty stomach," he said. &#42

Farmers in poor countries were being denied the technologies that could help them by anti-GM activists in the richer parts of the world.

Opinion within the farm council is divided, with some member states, such as Belgium and the UK, favouring a science-based approach, and others, such as Germany and France, taking a more hostile stance to GM technology.