GM crop watch: FAO calls for all-round control

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Related tags: Gm crops, Agriculture, Genetically modified organism

Joining the heated debate on GM food crops and ingredients, a group
of agricultural experts, herded together under the UN-backed FAO,
declare an A to Z approach must be the only path for 'responsible
deployment' of GM crops.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation led group has recommended that control over GM crops needs to comprise the whole technology development process, from the pre-release risk assessment, to biosafety considerations and post release monitoring.

For the group, environmental goals must also encompass the maintenance and protection of basic natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity.

The FAO advice comes shortly after a new report that shows the market value of GMOs continues to rise steadily.

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), the group behind the report, finds that the accumulated global value of biotech crops for the period between 1996 and 2004 stood a €18.4 billion. This year alone, the value of biotech crops is expected to hit €3.8 billion.

"The continued adoption of biotechnology, especially among small, resource-poor farmers, signals a strong vote of confidence in the benefits that farmers are around the world are deriving from these crops,"​ Dr Clive James, chairman and founder of the ISAAA, says in the report.

He identified China, India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa as countries that have significantly increased the proportions of their farms that are under biotech crops.

The five countries now account for one-third of the total global acreage under transgenic crops.

But in contrast, Louise O. Fresco, FAO assistant director-general of the agriculture department, warned this week: "The need to monitor both the benefits and potential hazards of released GM crops to the environment is becoming ever more important with the dramatic increase in the range and scale of their commercial cultivation, especially in developing countries."

The Rome-based body said the aim of the expert gathering is to eventually design a 'tool', to assist countries in making their own informed choices on the matter, as well as protect the productivity and ecological integrity of farming systems.

According to the FAO, the experts underlined that the wide-body of knowledge currently available on GM crops, needs to be brought together to coordinate this volume of 'often scattered information.'

They also emphasised that monitoring the effects of GM crops on the environment is not only necessary, but feasible even with limited resources when it is integrated with the deployment of these crops.

A reflection of the EU consumer's poor regard for GM foodstuffs, in total Europe has planted about 58,000 hectares of GM maize in Spain, lagging far behind the US, Canada and Argentina that have planted millions of hectares of GM crops.

Last week representatives from the 25 European member states postponed a vote on clearing a herbicide-resistant maize, known as GA21, from biotech giant Monsanto into the European food chain. Designed for use as an ingredient in food processing, not for growing, the members opted to delay the vote, pending further scientific data. Previous votes on clearing a handful of GM ingredients onto the market in Europe have all met with divided opinions.

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