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8-Misc: G8 calls on science in renewed GM food fight



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TITLE:  G8 calls on science in renewed GM food fight
SOURCE: Reuters, by Jon Herskovitz
DATE:   July 24, 2000

-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------


G8 calls on science in renewed GM food fight

OKINAWA - The Old World lined up against the New over food yesterday, 
failing to find common ground on the divisive issue of the future of 
genetically modified (GM) fare. For the second year in a row, the 
Group of Eight (G8) summit of world powers passed off to scientists 
the contentious issue that will affect the lives of almost everyone 
on earth. "There are two schools of thought on genetically modified 
food," French President Jacques Chirac said at the end of the meeting 
on this southern Japanese island.

The "American school," supported by the United States and Canada, saw 
no threat to health or the environment from GM foods while the "other 
school" backed by Europe and Japan which preaches caution and more 
scientific study, he said. "Each made a step in the direction of the 
other," said Chirac. "The supporters of the first view made a step 
towards understanding the others better. But it is true that there is 
still a divergence of views in this field."

In a communique papering over the heated weekend debate, the leaders 
confirmed a commitment to public awareness efforts on food safety and 
the potential risks associated with the food. "The commitment to a 
science-based, rule-based approach remains a key principle underlying 
these endeavours," it said. Few had expected the three-day summit of 
the G8 - the United States, Japan, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, 
Italy and Russia - to reach agreement on GM food, in which an 
external gene is inserted to give plants resistance to herbicides or 
disease.

For the Europeans, GM foods are an emotive issue especially after 
Britain's mad cow disease outbreak and a dioxin scare in Belgium have 
scared the European consumer. The United States, whose $4 billion a 
year GM food industry is the world's biggest, is concerned that 
coordinating further research could only delay acceptance of the 
technology.


NEVER EAT UNSAFE FOOD

"I would never knowingly let the American people eat unsafe food," 
U.S. President Bill Clinton said, defending his stand. Clinton, asked 
at a news conference if the Europeans had been too cautious, said: 
"Well, I think you know that I believe that. "I believe every 
country, and certainly the European Union, has a right and a 
responsibility to assure food safety. The only thing I have ever 
asked on GM foods is that decisions be based on clear science," he 
said after meeting Britain's Tony Blair.

Prime Minister Blair underscored the weekend differences. "I do hope 
there will be an opportunity for debate. There are intensely felt 
views on both sides of the argument," he said. Blair has faced 
ferocious opposition to GM foods from green and consumer groups. He 
has emphasised the need for a science-based approach to tackle the 
fears of what the opposition forces have dubbed "Frankenstein foods".

Host Japan has tried to take a more neutral stance, but it too has 
been wary and a recent string of domestic food safety scares will 
hardly reassure nervous consumers. One of the big stumbling blocks in 
talks in Okinawa was the "precautionary principle" that allows 
countries to block GM imports whose safety they doubt. Italian Prime 
Minister Giuilano Amato said references in the communique to the 
precautionary principle reflected European concerns and said U.S. 
understanding at least had been achieved.


FEAR, MONEY AND FOOD

U.S. bio-tech firms are already smarting from the adoption this year 
of the Biosafety Protocol, the first agreement regulating GM trade 
that includes the precautionary principle. The huge U.S. agri-
business industry is wary that scientific study could mask 
protectionism - a worry echoed by Canadian Prime Minister Jean 
Chretien. "We have to make the point that it not be used...as a non-
tariff barrier," he said. "When you know that millions of people are 
starving around the world, it's very important to make food 
available."

Yet some experts say the United States and Canada may have to soften 
their stance and submit to European and Japanese demands for more 
stringent checks as there is a growing acceptance that public concern 
is the biggest single barrier to GM trade. The United States has 
already lost millions of dollars in export earnings due to 
disagreements over what qualifies as safe and wants a clear set of 
science-based rules set up quickly.

Japan has tried to take a more neutral stance, but it too has been 
wary of the technology and a recent string of domestic food safety 
scares will hardly reassure nervous consumers. Politicians in North 
America, where huge swathes of land have been planted with GM crops, 
accuse Europe and Japan of using safety worries as a pretext for 
trade protectionism.






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