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Safety Checks on GMOs Flawed: EU Environment Chief

Safety checks on GMOs flawed: EU environment chief
By Jeremy Smith
Wed Apr 5, 2006
http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=healthNews&storyID=2006-04-05T110046Z_01_L05651737_RTRIDST_0_HEALTH-FOOD-EU-GMO-DC.XML&archived=False

VIENNA (Reuters) - Europe's environment chief attacked the EU's top food
safety agency on Wednesday for flawed risk assessments of genetically
modified (GMO) crops and foods, saying it relied too much on data given by
the biotech industry.

In a strong hint he was unwilling to process new requests for approval of
GMOs for growing until their potential long-term impact was known, EU
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas also warned against using such data
as a sole information source.

His comments on EFSA, Europe's Parma-based food safety agency, which
conducts scientific risk assessments of GMO products awaiting EU approval,
echoed similar criticisms made last month by the bloc's environment
ministers.

"There are questions like whether scientific opinions rendered by EFSA have
relied exclusively on information provided by companies that look at
short-term effects," he said.

"EFSA cannot give a sound scientific opinion on long-term effects of GMOs.
There are also questions on whether GMO companies are providing the right
information to the European Commission," he told a news conference.

EFSA's opinions are required by law if any country objects to a company's
application to authorize a new GMO product on EU territory. The agency, set
up in 2002, conducts its assessments based on data given by the biotech
companies that make the GMOs.

At their last meeting in March, several of the EU's 25 environment ministers
accused EFSA of failing to take independent and national studies into
account for its GMO risk assessments and of not allowing proper access to
its research.

This is not the first time EFSA, set up in 2002, has drawn fire on its GMO
reports, mainly by green groups that say the agency shows repeated bias in
favor of the biotech industry.

This view is disputed by industry, which says EFSA's independent work is
undermined by a small number of countries that oppose GMO crops on political
and not scientific grounds. EFSA says it is not influenced by commercial or
other interests. [!]

NEW APPROVALS 'ON HOLD'?

Later, in a speech delivered to a two-day conference on GMO crop
separation, Dimas gave a clear indication that longer-term studies on the
potential impact of GMOs were needed before the EU could consider new
applications for approval.

Three such applications are now sitting in his department of the European
Commission, the EU's executive arm, back in Brussels -- two modified maize
types and one GMO potato variety.

"Applications for cultivation of GMO products raise a whole new series of
possible risks to the environment, notably potential longer-term effects
that could impact on biodiversity," he told conference delegates.

"No new GM varieties have as yet been approved under the new regulatory
framework. And it is essential that we address such potential risks before
granting approvals for their cultivation," he said.

Dimas was referring to the 2001 Deliberate Release directive, the EU's main
GMO law that is used for approvals of any GMO destined for growing in
Europe's fields.

While the EU has authorized a few GMO crops for cultivation -- the only one
that is grown commercially is maize, mainly in Spain -- these approvals
were granted before 1998, when the EU began a six-year unofficial ban on
all new GMO authorizations.

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