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Monday, June 21, 1999 Published at 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK


Global GM crop investigation begins

The G8 leaders shared food but not ideas on food safety

The world's seven richest nations and Russia have commissioned a special investigation on the global implications of genetically-modified (GM) foods and crops.

Food under the microscope
However, France's proposals for "a global food policeman" have been rejected. French President Jacques Chirac spoke in the wake of a number of food scares, including dioxins in Belgian food and concerns over Coca-Cola in Europe. He said that food safety was a "vital subject for us and for our children".

The compromise finally reached by the G8 was to pass the issue over to scientific experts at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. They have until next year's summit in Japan to "undertake a study of the implications of biotechnology and other aspects of food safety".

[ image: Tony Blair:
Tony Blair: "Care and caution"
The British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the investigation: "Let's proceed with care and caution according to the evidence." He has faced intense pressure from a wide range of campaigners to impose a five-year moratorium on the growing of GM crops in the UK.

Big problems

The discussion of GM crops and food safety was added to a section of the summit's business called "Tackling Global Challenges". This placed it alongside nuclear safety, the millennium bug and the fight against the global epidemic of Aids.

Opponents of GM crops, including Friends of the Earth, said the new investigation was significant but added that US and UK caution about the original proposals showed how far their position is from those of other leading nations.

The investigation was also welcomed by Monsanto, a leading biotechnology company, who said it would speed up international approval of their products.

Problems of proof

The disagreement about a global food watchdog between the US and most of the European Union (EU) countries is unsurprising given their ongoing trade dispute. This has focused on hormone-treated beef and GM food.

The EU argues it will not import the US foods without clear scientific proof they are safe, while the US says it should be allowed to trade because there is no scientific proof they are harmful.

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Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Food future

Living in a GM world - New Scientist

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