Safety of GM Crops? Alarm bells ring for European Commissioners

Feature story - May 7, 2008
The GM food industry suffered another serious setback today as European Commissioners overturned the verdict of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), who had given assurances that three new types of GM crops were safe. For the first time, Europe's most senior lawmakers are publicly doubting the safety of GM crops.

GMO maize - ringing alarm bells for European Commissioners

The EFSA had previouslygiven the green light for a new type of GM potato and two types of GM maize tobe grown. However, when Europe's leaders beganto delve into the data on safety of these crops alarm bells rang.  

Leading experts from theWorld Health Organisation (WHO), the Institut Pasteur and the EuropeanMedicines Agency (EMEA) have already raised concerns about the impact of Germanchemical giant BASF's GM potato on human health. The crop could result in people andanimals developing resistance to certain types of antibiotics which are used totreat diseases. The data on the two types of GM maize wasn't much better.Scientists believe that they could harm wildlife such as butterflies and otherinsects. 

And if this mounting bodyof evidence wasn't enough to make Europe'sCommissioners sit up and think again, then the 130,000 email messages fromGreenpeace supporters certainly helped them to do so. Since last autumn, when Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas firststood up to the biotech industry, tens of thousands of environmentalistshave kept the heat on the European Commission about thisissue. We posted comments on Commission blogs, we wrote them emails, we sentthem postcards and petitions.

Greenpeace International'sGeert Ritsema certainly thinks that the decision is another nail in the coffinfor the GM food industry. On hearing of the Commission's decision,Ritsema said, "that policy makers at the very highest levels are nowquestioning the safety of GM crops is very significant". 

"The fact that the Commission has ordered a second investigation also raiseshuge questions over the EFSA’s ability to do its job properly. How can wetrust it to get it right on other crops if it has got it so badly wrongthis time?"  

Of course,scientific opinion means little when the giants of the GM industry areusing every trick in the book to make sure that the crops are given the goahead. It's no secret that the industry has been trying to intimidate Europe into giving the go ahead by threatening to launcha law suit against the Commission if it didn't agree.  
 
The Commission should be given a pat on the back for not caving intoindustry pressure. Having said that, why is the Commission asking the EFSA to look again at the crops when it has shown itself completelyincapable of doing so the first time round?  There is no escaping thefacts. The impact on the environment and on human health of GM crops thatproduce their own insecticides is completely unknown. The Commissionshould have recognised this and rejected the new crops outright. 

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