World leaders order GM food safety review

LEADERS OF the world's most powerful nations yesterday agreed to launch an international review of the safety of genetically modified (GM) food.

The G8 summit in Cologne agreed to set up two international committees to look at food safety standards during a discussion on "global threats", which include Aids and the millennium bug. The move marks a retreat for Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and US President Bill Clinton, who have consistently defended GM crops.

They were bounced into agreeing to the establishment of the inquiry by Jacques Chirac, the French President, and Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor, who have taken a more sceptical stance towards growing the GM crops on their soil.

The initiative was welcomed by environmental campaign groups, which have called for a five-year moratorium on growing GM crops in Britain.

However, questions remain about whether the G8's statements of intent will be translated into action. The French, who have banned some GM crops from being grown, originally put forward stronger proposals for action against genetically modified crops but these were later watered down.

The leaders agreed only to put in train the mechanisms for setting up an international committee of inquiry, rather than moving to an investigation immediately. The Paris-based Office for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the developed nations' club, will now set up two technical committees to review research into genetic modification.

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said the inquiry put Mr Blair, who has been resisting pressure to ban GM crops, "on the back foot".

And he warned that any inquiry must be independent, without interference from powerful biotechnology interests, and that its final recommendations must be acted on.

"This is another tangible demonstration that the world leaders who have been most behind GM technology have got it wrong," he said. "But we have to make sure that this is not a smoke screen. We need to see who is on the committee and what its frame of reference is."

Earlier this month there were signs that Downing Street was softening its public defence of GM foods and listening more closely to consumer concerns.

The two OECD committees will be asked to gather scientific evidence on the environmental effects of growing genetically modified food and possible health risks from eating it. This will form a database for each country.

They are expected to collate information about the dangers of using antibiotic- resistance marker genes in GM crops which, studies show, could lead to the build up of resistance to vital penicillins in humans.

They will also look at the latest studies on the danger of cross-pollination between GM and ordinary crops growing nearby. Ecologists have argued that there needs to be more testing of the dangers to the environment. Farm-scale trials are currently under way in Britain and commercial planting could begin as early as 2001.

Chancellor Schroder used his political might as head of the G8 host nation to ensure that GM food was on the agenda.

But the initiative came from President Chirac, who wrote in a letter to Schroder that: "Many of our difficulties stem from the absence of an independent global scientific authority, capable of giving reasoned advice on new products or procedures.

"I intend to propose at Cologne that we study the creation of an international scientific high council ... I am convinced that with such a body we would considerably improve the reliability of the international system."

The Independent on Sunday has campaigned for a moratorium on the commercial growth of GM crops until the results of field-scale trials and other scientific tests have been fully evaluated.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before