28 February 2000
‘Gene crops, yes — multinationals, no’

By FWi staff

GENETICALLY modified crops are needed to feed the growing populations of poor countries, a GM food conference has been told.

But the technology must not be in the hands of a few multinationals stressed delegates attending the three-day conference in Edinburgh on the science, safety and regulation of GM foods.

The event is organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and will report back to the G8 summit of major industrial nations in July.

“We need technology, especially biotechnology, for the future of mankind,” Reuters news agency reports Francisco Bolivar Zapata, head of the National Academy of Sciences in Mexico telling the conference.

Other delegates from poorer countries echoed these sentiments.

Experts agreed that most biotechnology is controlled by six giant multinational firms, including Monsanto, Novartis, and Astra-Zeneca.

“It is an atrocious situation that six corporations control this technology,” Suman Sahai, president of the Gene Campaign in India, told the conference.

“They are not attempting to create the kinds of crops that overcome drought or overcome barriers to increase food production in the Third World,”

Earlier at the conference, Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam denied the UK Government policy on GM foods is inconsistent, after the Prime Minister acknowledged they could have the potential to do harm.

Last year Tony Blair had branded biotech critics irrational and revealed that he was happy to eat GM food.

But Dr Mowlam insisted: “Our position has remained consistent,” reports the BBC.

“What we have always said is that there are potential harmful effects.

“There is always an element of risk. What is important in this issue is that the public have knowledge of the risks.

“We hope that by labelling and the research being done that that will be the case,” she said.

Away from the official conference US public interest attorney Steven Druker claimed that the US Food and Drug Administration ignored recommendations from many of its own scientists in accepting the safety of GM foods

Mr Druker is said to have come across this information researching FDA files while pursuing a lawsuit to require the FDA to introduce mandatory safety testing for GM foods.

Organics promotion and regulatory body the Soil Association which organised Mr Drukers appearance in Edinburgh, claimed the imbalance of speakers at the OECD conference may result in important issues not being raised.

It fears some of those opposed to genetic engineering have either been denied a fair contribution which may lead to an unacceptable “dumbing down” in the debate on key issues