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Fledgling EU food boy starts assessing GM safety

(Thursday, Sept. 18, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Jeremy Smith, Reuters, 09/17/03 via Agnet: BRUSSELS - Europe's top food agency,the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), barely out of its infancy, is, according to this story, slowly dipping its toes into one of the most controversial issues facing EU consumers today -- the safety of genetically modified food.

EFSA's Executive Director Geoffrey Podger was cited as saying his fledgling agency, which started work one year ago, expected to see several requests for authorisations of GM crops in 2004 but the actual products, and the order in which applications would arrive, was unclear, adding "The assessments are done by us but the decisions which are taken on the assessments fall outside EFSA."

The story says that the independent scientific agency is evaluating the safety of a type of GM maize used in feed and marketed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto. Its verdict is due in November.

The opinion could set the tone for a test ruling by EU officials as early as January, when the EU's executive Commission may ask member states to vote on introducing new GM crops and food products by the beginning of 2004.

If they approve, it would effectively spell the end of the EU's moratorium, triggered when five GM-sceptic countries -- France, Greece, Luxembourg, Italy and Denmark -- refused to endorse any new GM crop authorisations. Podger was further cited as saying his agency was completely objective in the debate over GM foods, adding, "We are genuinely neither pro nor anti: the object...is to give opinions without fear or favour. That's what we are determined to do."

A "yes" vote next year would find favour with the United States, where maize farmers are the most vocal critics of the EU ban and claim they lose nearly $300 million a year in exports.