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The credibility of the chair of the EU's food safety body has been questioned after it emerged she had links with companies involved with GM crops

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EU food safety chief forced to quit GM lobby role

Jemima Roberts and Tom Levitt

26th October, 2010

Questions raised over why European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) chair Diana Banati failed to make clear her connections to International Life Science Institute (ILSI), which advises biotech giants like Monsanto, Bayer and BASF

A key figure in charge of food safety within the EU has been forced to quit her director role at a pro-GM group.

European Green MEPs had called for EFSA chair Diana Banati's resignation after she had failed to disclose her seat on the board of directors of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI), which advises biotech corporations including Monsanto, Bayer and BASF.

However, she has been re-elected as chair of the European food safety watchdog after EFSA confirmed she had resigned from ‘positions which may create a potential conflict of interest'.

Campaigners said her links were 'unbelievable' and brought into question both the judgement of the EFSA’s senior management and the impartiality of the organisation as a whole.

‘The fact that the chair of the EFSA’s management board massaged her CV to dissimulate her role in an industry funded organisation which advises biotech corporations like Monsanto, Bayer and BASF is another nail in the coffin of EFSA’s credibility,' said Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero.

Jonathan Matthews from GMWatch said she should have resigned from EFSA rather than been re-elected. ‘She no longer has any credibility’, he said. ‘ILSI is backed by the world’s largest food and tobacco corporations, including Monsanto; the World Health Organisation (WHO) has harshly criticised it over its lobbying activities and has even restricted its WHO access’.

In a public statement EFSA admitted ‘the communication on potential conflict of interests lacked clarity’ but said it ‘deplores the unfounded attacks on the independence of the EFSA and its Chair’ emphasising that the role of Chair does not equate to a ‘management role.’

However, this is not the first time that the integrity of the EFSA has been called into question. A 2004 Greenpeace report, ‘The European Food Safety Authority: Failing Consumers and the Environment’ questioned the rigour of its scientific research into GM, concluding that ‘the criticisms of the old regulatory framework, of poor quality data and lack of investigation of irregularities and departures from substantial equivalence are still valid.’

In the UK, environment minister Caroline Spelman was recently criticised for her past connections to Spelman, Cormack and Associates, a food and biotechnology lobbying company she set up with her husband. She has since stated her support for GM.

A joint Greenpeace and Avaaz petition calling for a ban on the introduction of GM crops into Europe and the setting up of an independent, ethical, scientific body to research the impact of GM crops and determine regulation has received more than one million signatures of support.

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