EFSA hails GM summit despite conflicts of opinion

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union Gm

EFSA's acting director claims that this weeks meeting with
environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) was a success,
despite a huge gulf in opinion.

"I am very happy with the atmosphere in which the meeting took place,"​ said Herman Koter.

"We could not expect to agree on all details but I very much welcomed the open and fair debate on scientific issues as regards GM (genetic modification).

"We will continue to exchange views and collaborate with all stakeholders to provide a basis for a better understanding of each others role, expectations and approach."

The summit in Parma discussed scientific and procedural issues related to the risk assessment of GM food. In his introduction, Koter addressed fundamental issues such as the scientific approach and EFSA's selection of experts.

Members of the EFSA GM panel, presented a closer look at the risk assessment process of GMOs, focusing in particular on the scientific basis for evaluating food and feed safety, environmental impact and monitoring.

The NGO participants represented Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the European Environmental Bureau, GM Free Cymru and GeneWatch. These organisations focused on issues like statistical approaches, the nature of data considered during a risk assessment and also shared their views on assessments already undertaken by EFSA.

The summit came just weeks after a WTO ruling backed the US, Canada and Argentina in their efforts to open Europe up to genetically modified (GM) food. In August 2003, the US, Canada and Argentina took the EU to the WTO for suspending approvals for biotech products, and for six member states national bans on EU-approved GMOs.

The WTO ruled earlier this month that any ban on GM imports contravened the rules of free trade.

Both the European biotechnology industry and the European Commission have welcomed the decision. "The industry continues to back a science-based regulatory system to ensure farmers have the choice to use sustainable techniques that best meet the needs of their farming operations,"​ said EuropaBio, the European association for biotech industries, in a statement.

But some anti-GM campaigners remain convinced that Europe does not want GM food. It is clear that Member States still need to be convinced that introducing genetically modified ingredients into food production is acceptable the Commission has asked EU members over ten times to vote on authorising a GMO food or feed product, but in the large majority of cases, there was no agreement or simple deadlock.

The objective of the meeting was to consider, in light of these developments, if there are issues of a scientific or technical nature that the authority should take into account in the further development of its work and operating procedures.

EFSA believes that the meeting illustrates the agency's willingness to dialogue with interested parties on scientific matters in line with EFSA's policy on openness and transparency. The authority says that it is committed to exchange and collaboration with all of its stakeholders, including those who may hold different views.

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