GM Crops Seen As Safe As Other Foods –OECD

By Greg Frost
June 16, 2000 Reuters

PARIS, June 16 (Reuters) - Genetically modified (GM) crops that have already been approved for human consumption are as safe as other foods, according to two OECD reports published on the internet this week.

"Those countries that have conducted assessments are confident that those GM foods they have approved are as safe as other foods," the OECD said.

But the reports by the Paris-based Organisation for Co-operation and Development recommend that government regulators pay closer attention to involving the public when assessing the safety of future generations of GM crops.

Peter Kearns, the OECD's principal administrator for biotechnology, said the reports are part of the OECD's response to last year's request by the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised countries for more information on GM foods.

Kearns spent the past year managing the two groups that drafted the reports, which address the consumer and environmental safety aspects of GM foods and which will be presented at the G8's summit next month in Okinawa, Japan.

"For the most part, the people who prepared the reports are confident that where (GM) products have been approved in countries, they are safe," Kearns told Reuters on Friday.

But Kearns warned that the world was currently dealing with the first generation of GM crops, and that subsequent crops promised to be more evolved.

He explained that where first-generation GM crops may have been designed to withstand pesticides or herbicides, subsequent generations may involve plants that are genetically modified to produce edible vaccines, for example.

"Both reports point out that the second generation of products will be a little more complex. It is very important for government safety regulators to think about what's coming in the future," he said.

"It's already been quite a challenge...for people who work in governments to try to explain these complicated technical issues (to the public)," he added.

SAFETY ASSESSMENTS
Kearns said the report that examines the environmental aspects of GM crops also tackles the charged issue of precaution.

This topic was highlighted recently when France, citing the precautionary principle, ordered the destruction of hundreds of hectares of rapeseed that had been accidentally planted with seeds containing GM material.

Kearns said there were quite strong differences between OECD member states over the issue of precaution, but that the report points out that precaution already plays an important role in most assessment strategies in place.

"The report points out that if you're doing a risk or safety assessment, this takes into account scientific uncertainty.

"The very fact that most OECD countries have a safety assessment system in place means no one can market these products (without approval). Many people believe that this, in itself, is a precautionary approach," he said.

Kearns said government regulators already perform thorough safety assessments on GM crops, but that they are not accustomed to explaining this to the public.

"The real challenge for regulators or people like myself in the future is to think through how they communicate what they're doing better," he said.

Copyright Reuters Limited 2000

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