OECD expert urges GM food safety overhaul

New OECD report proposes international forum on GM food safety, greater openness in assessments

There is no evidence that eating genetically modified (GM) foods can have negative effects, but a chance remains that problems may arise in the future, according to Professor John Krebs, who chaired the recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conference on GM food safety (ENDS Daily 3 March). These conclusions are contained in his report on the conference submitted to the OECD Council today.

"There has been insufficient work to fully assess environmental impacts [of GM crops]," Professor Krebs adds, while making a number of suggestions on how to modify the regimes governing regulation and assessment of GM foods. One key recommendation is creation of an international forum, along the lines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to address the food safety and environmental implications of biotechnology and to provide governments with "a state-of-the-art assessment of scientific knowledge about GM technology."

He also calls for greater openness in the assessment processes and in the way GM policy is developed. "People want to know how decisions have been reached and to be consulted," he writes, and suggests that such an approach would go a long way to removing the suspicion that surrounds the technology. "Consumers have the right to choose," and labelling will allow them to do this, he adds.

Professor Krebs calls into question the concept of "substantial equivalence," which bases safety assessments of GM foods on those already in the diet, and says that the current methods for assessing the toxicity and allergenicity of foods need re-examination.

The report, along with an evaluation of the methods for assessing the safety of GM foods and harmonisation of food safety legislation, will be included in the OECD's submissions to the Group of Eight industrialised nations in July.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00 and report

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