EU Food Safety Chief says critics "quite mad"! (20/12/2004)

1. Dodgy Podger says critics "quite mad" - GM Watch
2.Food safety chief denies agency has pro-GMO bias - European Voice

1. Dodgy Podger says critics "quite mad"

Today the Environment Ministers of 19 European Union countries voted against approving a Monsanto GM crop despite the assurance of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that Monsanto's GT 73 rape crop was "as safe as conventional oilseed rape for humans and animals, and in the context of the proposed uses, for the environment.''

The EFSA has adopted a firmer stance on the issue than even the official UK government advisors on GM foods and feeds, who have said that they are not satisfied with the explanation that Monsanto has provided for the observed increased liver weight in rats fed GT73.

There are very good reasons for concern about the EFSA and its assurances. There are scientists on the panel who have involvements with the biotech industry. 2 have even appeared in promotional videos for the industry, while another has financial links, as Friends of the Earth Europe pointed out last month in a hard-hitting report on the EFSA and its dubious decision making on GMOs.

The head of the EFSA robustly denies any bias. According to the article below, Geoffrey Podger 'branded the allegations "unsubstantiated" and those who made them as "quite mad"'!!

But how much confidence should the public have in Geoffrey Podger? When in October 2002 the Wall Street Journal broke the news that the board of the then new European Food Safety Authority was nominating the chief executive of the UK's Food Standards Agency as its first executive director, GM Watch warned the European Parliament to take a long hard look at Podger's nomination "given the dire record of the UK's Food Standards Agency, which was at the forefront of Britain's opposition to the EU's new labelling rules".

The UK's Food Standards Agency's disastrous start, not least on the GM front, was mostly blamed on its pro-GM Chair, Sir John Krebs, but some saw Podger as the one to watch.

The Food Commission's 'Food Magazine', for instance, reported how, "At one of the BSE consultation meetins open to the public, chairman Krebs frequently had to ask Podger to help him answer questions from the audience. During one of Podger's lengthy replies, Krebs actually raised his hand and said 'Excuse me, Mr Chairman ..... oops, I'm the chair, aren't I?' Podger grinned broadly. Now Podger is tightening his grip on the agency."

Prof Philip James who drew up the blueprint for the FSA, told the investigative journalist, Andy Rowell, that there were two key decisions that have tended to undermine the blueprint and the agency's independence. 'When you look at the way the FSA was organised, they managed not to make the staff independent of the civil service which we'd identified as critical for establishing its independence', said James. In addition, 'they appointed senior MAFF [Ministry of Agriculture] staff to the senior echelons of the agency, when I'd made it quite clear... that you needed to bring in outsiders'.

According to Prof James, this then had the knock-on effect of alienating others involved in developing the FSA blueprint who 'suddenly saw the final decisions' being 'controlled by MAFF' and so 'immediately asked for a transfer' out of the agency.

Podger came to the FSA as a full time civil servant and previously career bureaucrat at MAFF and the Department of Health.

Having made an indelibly pro-GM mark on the FSA, "Dodgy Podger" now seems to be running true to type at the EFSA.

2.Food safety chief denies agency has pro-GMO bias
By Martin Banks
European Voice, Volume 10, Number 44
16 December 2004

THE head of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has hit back at claims that the agency is biased in favour of the biotechnology industry.

Geoffrey Podger branded the allegations "unsubstantiated" and those who made them as "quite mad".

Podger was responding to claims from Friends of the Earth (FoE) that virtually all of the 12 EFSA opinions so far on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been favourable to the biotech industry and that some of the agency's scientists have close links with the industry.

Adrian Bebb, anti-GM campaigner for FoE, accused EFSA of "continuously brushing aside" evidence of the potential health effects of GM crops.

"The agency plays a key role in the approval of new GM foods in Europe and needs to be independent from industry but it has clearly made up its mind that GM foods are safe and ignores any evidence or views that question that position," Bebb said.

But Podger, who has a five-year mandate, declared: "That simply is not true. We have looked at all the allegations made by Friends of the Earth and found them to be unsubstantiated.

"I have every confidence in the independence of our experts and simply do not accept such criticism.

"The GM issue is, of course, a very sensitive one but it is quite mad to say that we side with one side or the other. We act neither for lobby groups nor the industry."

The group's allegations were to be discussed at a meeting of the authority's management board today (16 December).

The work of the authority, which has an annual budget of l28 million, will be reviewed by independent consultants next year and Podger hopes its remit will be expanded.

"The review was foreseen from the start and, among other things, it will investigate whether our role should be widened. There is no doubt in my mind that, in its short life, the agency has done what it was set up to do but, personally, I would like to see us able to undertake more wide ranging nutritional studies," he said.

Podger has been head of the authority for nearly two years. EFSA will next month move from its current base in Brussels to its new one in Parma in Italy. He says the move will be completed by the autumn of 2005.

A former head of the UK food safety standards authority, Podger called for staffing levels to be increased "as a matter of urgency".

The agency currently has 120 staff but he said this should rise eventually to between 250 and 300 to cope with its increasing workload. Podger said: "At present we simply do not have the staff available to do the work.

"It is an uphill struggle. Staff are working very long hours and this is something which needs addressing. We are really looking forward to the move to Italy, our staff want to move there and have received enormous cooperation from the Italian authorities.

"But we would find it very difficult to take on any more responsibility without the necessary staff."

-Five GMOs were evaluated by EFSA;
-four given a positive opinion: GM maize NK 603, oilseed rape GT 73, GM maize MON 863, GM maize 1507;
-opinion on hybrid maize MON 863 x 810 held back pending further data.

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