EU's Food Safety Authority accused of industry bias
Member states to vote on GM crops today
Brussels, Monday 29 November 2004 - A new report published today by Friends of the Earth heavily criticises the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for its constant position in favour of the biotechnology industry.(1) Later today the European Commission, using advice from the EFSA, will ask EU member states to vote on the import of a new genetically modified (GM) maize called MON 863 - and also on whether countries should drop national bans of GM crops. (2)
Today's Friends of the Earth report THROWING CAUTION TO THE WIND is the first ever critique of the EFSA and its work on genetically modified (GM) foods. Earlier this year, the European Commission started using the EFSA scientific opinions as a basis to licence new GM foods.(3) The report highlights in particular:
*Virtually all of the 12 EFSA opinions on GMOS produced so far have been favourable to the biotechnology industry.
*Some of the scientists on the panel have involvements with the biotech industry, eg appearing on promotional videos for the industry
*During its consideration of the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes, the EFSA went beyond considering just the health and environmental risks, and decided to examine the economic value of using these genes for industry.
*The EFSA recommended that GM crops containing genes for resistance to the important antibiotic ampicillin should not be grown commercially. But it then refused to support the Austrian ban on such crops (eg Syngenta's Bt176), stating that they only meant their opinion to be applicable for future crops and not current ones. This ban will be voted on today.
Lack of precaution
*The EFSA continuously brushes aside evidence of differences and potential health effects of GM crops, even when concerns are raised by scientific committees of the member states. A clear example of this is Monsantos MON863 maize, which member states vote on today.
Adrian Bebb, report coordinator and GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said:
"The European Food Safety Authority has clearly made its mind up that GM foods are safe and ignores any evidence or views that question that position. Its opinions to date have constantly supported the biotechnology industry and it disregards voices of concern from either the public or the national member states. How can so many scientists in Europe be wrong and the EFSA right?
"This Authority plays a key role in the approval of new genetically modified foods in Europe. It needs to be independent from industry and put public and environmental safety before the financial interests of the GM companies. Sadly it is neither of these. The public deserves and demands that their safety is put first."
Friends of the Earth have made a number of initial recommendations, including:
*Replacing pro-GM members of the EFSA GMO Scientific Panel, including the Chair
*A review by an independent panel of all the EFSA GM opinions
*The application of EU law to ensure long-term tests are done, the level of scientific uncertainty is highlighted and that the EFSA works with member states to overcome their differences of opinion.
Friends of the Earth Europe +49 1609 490 1163
Geert Ritsema, Friends of the Earth Europe +31 62 90 05 908
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The FOE report: "Throwing caution to the wind a review of the European Food Safety Authority and its work on genetically modified foods and crops", can be downloaded at: www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/publications/EFSAreport.pdf
2. At today's Regulatory Committee meeting on the deliberate release of GMOs in the environment, member states will vote on the import of Monsanto's MON863 maize as well as the national bans. Between 1997 and 2000 five countries introduced bans following scientific concerns over the safety of GM crops. The Commission's proposals calls on countries to repeal their bans within 20 days. A comprehensive FOE briefing on the national bans can be found at: www.foeeurope.org/biteback/download/national_bans_briefing_Oct2004.pdf
3. In July 2004 the Commission gave the go ahead to Monsanto's NK603 maize citing that, "It has been scientifically assessed by the European Food Safety Authority as being as safe as any conventional maize. Its safety is, therefore, not in question, and neither is the question of user or consumer choice." See page 6 of the report.
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