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Call to bring GM reserach out into the open

Ecologist

1st February, 2009

The former chair of the European Food Safety Authority calls for more publicly-funded research into GM crops to avoid biotechnology firm bias.

The former chair of the European Food Safety Authority – the body responsible for assessing the environmental and public health risks of GM crops in Europe – has called for more publicly-funded research into GM crops to avoid issues of bias with studies submitted by biotechnology firms.

In an interview with campaign group GMFree Ireland, Professor Patrick Wall said that an increase in public spending on biotech research would ‘give people more confidence’ in the risk assessment process: ‘There is a huge issue with consumer confi dence,’ he acknowledged. ‘So if consumers would be more confident if we had more publicly-funded research where the researchers had no vested interests in getting their products over the line, that’s one thing [we could change].’

Wall also called for biotechnology companies to disclose the complete set of raw data from their crop trials, rather than omit ‘commercially sensitive’ information:
‘There’s a dilemma in that when companies submit dossiers they maintain that this is confi dential commercial information... [but] it is in the interest of consumer confi dence that as much data as possible is in the public domain.

'Notably, Wall was unequivocal that if EU countries believed that it was in their interest to remain GM-free – even if this was for image purposes, such as preserving a reputation for eco-tourism – then they should be free to do so.

‘We cannot force-feed European citizens products that they don’t want,’ he said. ‘We live in a democracy – people have a right to have objections, and if people don’t want the technology they’ve a right not to have it. The idea of marginalising some member states who are anti-the technology is wrong.’

Meanwhile, a report from the US Government Accountability Offi ce (GAO) has criticised those responsible for monitoring the spread of GM crops. The GAO said of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drugs Administration: ‘The three agencies do not have a coordinated program for monitoring the use of marketed GE crops to determine whether the spread of genetic traits is causing undesirable effects on the environment, non-GE segments of agriculture, or food safety’.

The report came just days after the UK was exposed as lobbying against strict safeguards on the unauthorised spread of GM seed at a high-level EU meeting. The action, which Defra justifi ed as ‘pragmatic and proportionate’, was seen off by other EU member states.

 

 

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