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Greenfacts gives industry access to latest GM findings

By Anthony Fletcher , 13-Dec-2005

An online summary of a key FAO study into genetically modified food has given the food industry unprecedented access to vital information concerning the safety and potential risks of this technology.

Brussels-based Greenfacts, a non-profit organisation that aims to provide faithful summaries of authoritative scientific consensus documents on environment and health matters, is the body behind the initiative.

"Our main challenge is to put good science into words that people understand," Greenfacts general manager Jacques de Selliers told FoodNavigator.

"The problem is that if industry tries to communicate the facts, then often, their credibility is very low. Greenfacts has been able to achieve good credibility by using not industry sources but experts sources such as the FAO.

"This is something that no one has been doing."

The GreenFacts GM summary addresses issues such as how biotechnology can be applied to agriculture, whether GM foods are safe to eat and what effects could GM crops have on the environment.

Terri Raney, the editor of this FAO publication, said that the GreenFacts study on GMOs "is an excellent summary of the scientific evidence reported in The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-04".

de Selliers is an engineer by profession, and eventually found himself in technical management. "I'm used to giving facts, and finding out the scientific truth behind the rumours," he said.

"But finding them is often possible. If you listen to experts, each one has their own views."

It was this need for clarity, impartiality and validity that was behind the formation of Brussels-based Greenfacts.org in 2001. Consensus reports, which have been written and gathered together by experts, are often very lengthy and shrouded in impenetrable jargon.

Greenfacts takes these consensus documents, summarises them and puts them into everyday language. The organisation also provides three levels of detail to enable people to penetrate the report as deeply as they would like.

"We have an in-house editorial team that works with external experts," said de Selliers. "The expert does the first draft, then the editorial team makes sure that the document is readable, then the expert checks it again… this goes on, back and forth, until everyone is happy."

For especially contentious issues, a preliminary review is sent to what de Selliers calls stakeholder experts. For facts concerning genetic modification, for example, a copy could be sent out to an industry expert and an environmental expert.

All documents are then peer-reviewed by three independent experts under the control of Greenfacts.org's scientific board. And of course, the original scientific document itself must be approved, which is why most come from established institutions such as the FAO.

"This process is rigorous because we really wanted to take no risks," said de Selliers. "Our aim is not to get into a debate."

de Selliers says that the organisation has more food-related publications in the pipeline. One will be a summary of the diet and nutrition 2004 publication by the World Health Organisation (WHO). After that, Greenfacts plans to summarise WHO's report on child obesity, which will be published at the same time as the main document.

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