EFSA conference: Transparency in GM crop assessment?

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) held an open forum to gain inputs on its transparency policy on risk assessment last Wednesday, 3rd October 2013, at its headquarters in Parma, Italy.  Among the attendees was our executive and scientific director, Robert Verkerk PhD, and a wide range of representatives from both public- and business-interest non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

While all areas of food risk assessment were on the agenda, it soon became clear that the hottest issues relate to assessment of genetically modifed (GM) crops.  The outcome of the debate and workshop will be published in due course by EFSA.  However, there appears to be a gaping difference between the views of public- as compared with business-interest NGOs, one that may be irreconcilable.  The former generally demand, for good reason, the highest possible level of transparency for data used to make risk assessment decisions, particularly around GM crops and food additives.

Business interests, on the other hand, voiced clearly at the EFSA forum by Mr Euros Jones from the European Crop Protection Association, continue to push for some opacity in the data made available on risk assessment.  Their reasoning?  They claim their main concern is to protect individual companies from their competitors.  One has to wonder, however, if there aren’t other reasons as well, such as obscuring the lack of relevant data used to assess GM crops.  Historically, EFSA has tended to bow to the needs of large corporate interests, so it would be a first if the authority were to require more disclosure and further transparency.  We’ll keep you posted.

Monsanto executive to win World Food Prize

News that a Monsanto GM scientist is to receive the ‘Nobel prize of agriculture’ is going viral.  The news relates to award of this year’s World Food Prize to Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto, Dr Robert T Fraley.  Dr Fraley is awarded the prize jointly with Dr Mary-Dell Chilton, Founder and Distinguished Science Fellow of Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc.  Biotech giant Syngenta further raised its public profile by joining Bayer in suing Europe to continue selling bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides.

The third prizewinner is Dr Marc Van Montague, described as a, “Tireless, influential advocate for the transfer of plant biotechnology for the economic, environmental and health benefits of the emerging and developing nations”.  Those concerned about this development, which could be cynically construed as part of a wider program to further legitimise GM foods and bee-killing pesticides, can sign a petition objecting to the choice of recipients for the prize.

Meanwhile, GMWatch brings us news of the experimental open releases of non-native strains of GM olive and Mediterranean fruit flies by a UK-based company, Oxitec.  The flies are being released in Spanish and Brazilian fruit orchards, respectively, “Without scientific review and public consultation”.  Environmental and civil society groups on five continents warn that the releases pose major risks to crops and the environment, as harmful GM traits such as pesticide resistance could spread into wild pest populations.  We believe that this is highly irresponsible!

42,000 British children exposed to fluoridated milk

Despite dozens of human and animal studies linking fluoride to lowered IQ and brain damage, the 'Health and Wellbeing Board' of Blackpool Council has recently backed a proposal to add fluoride to the milk drunk by primary children in this north-western UK town.  Public health schemes involving the fortification of milk with fluoride for UK school children (aged 3-11 years) began in 1993 in Merseyside, also in the north-west of England.  Ten north-western UK towns now run such schemes.  Russia, Chile, Thailand and Bulgaria also have such programmes underway, their adoption no doubt encouraged by the World Health Organization's approval.

There is, understandably, a good deal of parental concern about such schemes.  This concern is driven not only by the potential risks of fluoride over-exposure, but also by questions about the schemes' effectiveness in preventing dental caries.