Global biosafety food standards vital to counter contamination

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gm crops Genetically modified organism Genetic engineering

Greenpeace has called for the urgent adoption of international
biosafety standards after the publication of a report that claims
to reveal the extent of GM contamination.

Alleged incidents include pork meat from genetically engineered pigs being sold to consumers, ordinary crops being contaminated with GM (genetically modified) crops containing pharmaceuticals and growing and international distribution of illegal antibiotic resistant maize seeds.

The pressure group says that the report, a summary of incidents featured on the on-line Contamination Register set up by Greenpeace and GeneWatch UK, provides a disturbing picture of widespread contamination, illegal planting and negative agricultural side effects.

But biotech industry experts remain highly sceptical, arguing that environmental groups are simply trying to confuse the issue and scare consumers. Simon Barber, director of the plant biotech unit (PBU) of EuropaBio, told FoodNavigator​ that he thought Greenpeace was trying to explicitly link the issue of bioexistence with safety.

"The fact of the matter is that these products are as safe as any other,"​ he said. "My guess is that they are trying to confuse people by introducing the concept of safety, when this isn't a safety issue at all."

Barber says that a small degree of cross-fertilisation both ways is inevitable, but as GM has been proven to be safe, there is no health risk involved.

However, the Greenpeace report claims to have details of 113 contamination cases involving 39 countries - twice as many countries as are officially allowed to grow GM crops since they were first commercialised in 1996.

And Greenpeace claims that the frequency of these cases is increasing, with 11 countries affected in 2005 alone.

The publication of the report comes only days before the latest meeting of the 132 countries who have signed the Biosafety Protocol, which is to establish standards of safety and information of GM crops in global food and feed trade.

Greenpeace says that at their last meeting, an imminent agreement was blocked by only two member states, Brazil and New Zealand. They were backed by the major GM exporting countries USA, Argentina and Canada, who are not members of the Protocol and want "to restrict required identification to a meaningless note that a shipment 'may contain' GM".

"All of these countries have national legislation to protect themselves from illegal GM imports,"​ said Benedikt Haerlin of Greenpeace International's Biosafety Protocol delegation. "Still they want to deny the same rights and level of information to less developed countries, with no national Biosafety-laws and means to enforce them."

Greenpeace is therefore calling for a mandatory international register of all such events to be set up, along with the adoption of minimum standards of identification and labelling of all international shipments of GM crops.

"Without such biosafety standards, the global community will have no chance of tracing and recalling dangerous GMOs, should this become necessary,"​ said Haerlin.

But biotech industry experts strongly disagree with this assessment. "There is already an assessment model in place,"​ said Barber.

"If something is a nuisance to the natural environment it will be stopped this is already part of the process."

Barber said he expected the issue of how to label GM commodities and the issue of liability to dominate discussions at the Biosafety Protocol.

Related topics Science Food Safety & Quality

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