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Biotech experts will brief EU farm ministers


The European Union (EU) farm ministers will hear expert views on the benefits and pitfalls of biotech next week including a call that developing countries be given a chance to grow their own genetically modified crops, reports Reuters. Belgium, the current EU president, has already announced its pro-GM stance and has invited five scientists from around the world to speak at an informal meeting of farm ministers in the eastern Belgian town of Alden Biesen next Monday and Tuesday. The meeting follows last week's comments of Romano Prodi, European Commission president, that the 15-nation bloc needed a new coherent strategy to deal with biotechnology in the 21st century if it was not to miss its industrial and economic benefits. Belgium's former agriculture minister Jaak Gabriels will chair the meeting, and has said he hopes the views will act as a counter-balance to the environmental lobby, which, he says, has virtually had a free hand in forming public opinion on the issue. John Manyo, one of the guest scientists, who works with the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Africa, will highlight the need for more research into GM crop use in developing countries. He will also criticise the biotech multinationals for not considering the real needs of poor countries, when choosing the crops on which biotech research is undertaken. Ministers will also get an update on the biotech situation in China from a Beijing university scientist, who is expected to contrast the differences in commercialising GM crops in the east and the west, and call for global approach to risk assessment. Phil Dale, a British expert from the John Innes Centre, will explain the impact of GM crops on biodiversity and the environment; a scientist from New Zealand will look at the potential for bio-fuels, and Karen Dodds from Canada will focus on health and labelling issues. David Byrne, the EU Food Safety Commissioner will attend the meeting alongside EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler. Mr. Byrne has recently unveiled plans for the strict labelling of GM products, drawing criticism from some of the EU's trading partners.

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