The G8 Summit: GM Regulation: US stops safe food moves

FEARFUL IT could be a guise for protectionism, the US and Canada have blocked a French initiative to set up a global food safety council to set international standards and regulate the sales of genetically modified foods.

The idea was put forward last week by Jacques Chirac, the French president, in a meeting with the US President, Bill Clinton. But Washington did not hide its opposition, arguing that it should be left to the World Trade Organisation, and that, in any case, America was well protected by its Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "If Europe's worried, they can just sign up to the FDA," one US official said.

Instead the G8 heads of government at their summit here merely pushed the topic off to two working groups at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with instructions to report back to next year's summit in Okinawa, Japan - by which time, the US hopes, the issue will have faded from the headlines.

The food safety argument drew a clear line between the European G8 countries, rocked in recent years by a string of controversies from mad cow disease to GM foods and now dioxin-contaminated chickens from Belgium, and the others, notably Canada and the US.

Underlying the issue, too, are massive commercial interests. America's GM food industry is worth $4bn a year and arouses little public debate - unlike in Britain, for instance, where it is regarded with suspicion and often hostility.

"The world needs a strong initiative," Mr Chirac said yesterday, reluctantly accepting second best. "But as soon as you start talking about monitoring technological developments, the US and Canada automatically think it means a return to protectionism. That's wrong."

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