GeneWatch PR: Genetically Modified Foods: Put the Consumer First.

Embargoed until 00.01 Wednesday 3rd December 2003

Green groups warn new European food authority

Europe's largest grassroots environmental network, together with GeneWatch UK, have today warned the new European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that unless it takes a precautionary approach on genetically modified (GM) foods then it will hold little support from the general public. On Thursday (4th) EFSA will publish its first scientific opinion on a GM maize from Monsanto. (1)

The environmental groups have written to EFSA calling on them to fully address the public and scientific concerns over the safety of GM foods. In particular they have demanded that:

  • EFSA ensure that health assessments, for example examining whether the GM food could cause allergies, are done to the highest scientific standard and at least to the standard set out in WHO/FAO guidelines. (2)

  • all GM foods have been investigated for their effects on future generations, their potential to cause toxic effects in the long term and the particular health sensitivities, such as existing allergies, of consumers. This is laid down by Regulation 178/2002 which sets out European food law.

  • all evidence and supporting studies that have been taken into account are made available for public scrutiny as required by regulations.

  • EFSA puts into place the promises that it has made to allow stakeholder participation in scientific opinions.(3)

Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe said:
"Until these basic questions are dealt with then it is hard for any of us to trust or believe in the capabilities of EFSA. The Authority has so far acted in virtual secrecy and has not lived up to its promises of being open and transparent. This is not a good start. However the real test will be whether they will take on board the scientific concerns raised by the public and take a precautionary stance. The public deserves, and will accept, nothing less."

Dr Sue Mayer, Director of GeneWatch UK said:
"This is a real test of the EFSA. The previous approach to approving GM foods has rightly been criticised for not having the thoroughness that the public demands. The FSA's scientists should start with a clean slate and take an even handed and scientific approach to the assessment of GM foods. Public health, not the profits of the biotech industry, should be given the benefit of the doubt."

Notes to Editors

  1. The Monsanto maize, NK603, has been modified to protect it from Monsanto's own herbicide Roundup.

  2. A recent report by the Austrian Government looked at previous decisions made on GM foods under the old scientific committee system and attacked the poor level of scrutiny. They concluded that many approvals are based on pure assumptions of safety rather than any conclusive proof.

  3. According to the minutes of the first meeting of the GMO Scientific Panel (26 May) the Executive Director, Geoffrey Podger, wanted to make innovations in a number of areas, in particular "to develop and make open and transparent the science of risk assessment.... [and] to provide greater opportunity for stakeholder participation in the risk assessment process and the delivery of a final opinion"


Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth Europe +49 1609 490 1163
Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK, +44 7930 308 807

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