Brussels, 06 June 2002
The benefits and risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were discussed at a conference on GM foods organised by European Commission stagiaires on 6 June 2002.
René Custers of the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology told delegates at 'GM foods - a solution for better quality and quantity?' that genetically-modified foods can offer significant benefits. He gave the example of rice engineered to be rich in the essential nutrient pro-vitamin A.
The new rice strain, developed in Switzerland, is now undergoing breeding and testing programmes. Similarly, work is in progress on ways of knocking allergens out of foods such as peanuts and milk and modifying vegetable oil so that it contains fewer artery-blocking saturated fatty acids.
Mr Custers also explained that there are similarities as well as differences between GM and conventionally-bred crops. Herbicide-resistant plants, for example, have been developed using both genetic modification and traditional breeding methods. Both types of crop, he said, contain a mixture of both nutritional and harmful chemicals. Potatoes, for example, contain harmful naturally-occurring toxins which are eliminated through cooking.
He said: 'GMOs are not the magic bullet, but they are an important way to help solve problems we have in our food production.'
Mr Custers added that the concept of 'the consumer' is misleading - there are many different consumers who all shop with different needs and ideals in mind.
Beate Kettlitz, a food advisor with the European Consumers' Organisation, said that consumer choice is key to the acceptance of GM produce by European consumers. 'I think we would all agree that the introduction of GM food in Europe has been disastrous,' she said, blaming a lack of transparency and consumer choice for shoppers' disillusionment. Clear labelling is necessary, she said, not to warn consumers but to allow them to exercise choice.
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