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Italy to Scientists: No GM Gelato

Italy’s newly appointed Green agriculture minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio
has announced a virtual declaration of war against genetically modified (GM)
foods.

Pecoraro Scanio said this week that he opposed the use of biotechnology in
agriculture and defended consumers’ right to know whether foods contain
genetically modified ingredients.

It was one of his first policy statements. The new government obtained full
powers only yesterday evening when the Italian Senate confirmed last week’s
chamber of deputies confidence vote.

Pecoraro Scanio said he hopes Italy will join France in lobbying the USA
over concerns about risks of GM organisms to human health and the
environment.

“I am against experimentation [with GM crops] in open fields, which should
only be allowed in restricted areas. We will work for this in Italian and
European law,” he told journalists.

Biotechnology experimentation should only be permitted “for health reasons”
Pecoraro Scanio added, saying that he was not opposed to research.

Food product labels should not only state whether foods contain GM
ingredients but should describe the entire production process, according to
the new minister.

“We must resist the American principle whereby the consumer cannot tell if
part of his meal comes from Patagonia and part from Canada. I want to know,”
he said. “I am convinced that in the very near future every consumer will be
increasingly concerned over how and where his food was prepared.”

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has launched a new attack on an type of genetically
modified maize, approved by the European Union claiming that the original
scientific evaluations submitted by developer Novartis were “inappropriate
and scientifically flawed.”

The group’s assessment of the evaluations follows a recent European Court of
Justice ruling, relating to the same variety, that European Union clearance
for GM crops could be overturned if “irregularities” could be shown in the
original approval process.

The Greenpeace attack on Novartis’ insecticidal Bt maize is based on a
report commissioned from Swiss consultancy Ecostrat, reviewing evidence
Novartis submitted to the French authorities on behalf of other European
Union countries, leading to EU approval for the Bt “event” in 1997.

The NGO yesterday handed the document to the European Commission and the
French government. Greenpeace said it would also communicate the results to
France’s Council of State, which is due to rule soon on whether the original
approval of the maize was legal.

Last month Greenpeace presented the same information to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that its approval for the same Bt
maize event, plus one developed by biotech firm Mycogen, was based on
questionable science.

The Ecostrat report claims a wide range of failings in Novartis’
evaluations, which it concludes were “designed so poorly that there was
virtually no chance to observe any adverse effects.” Most of the studies did
not simulate insect feeding habits realistically, it says, and ignored food
chain interactions. They also used “inadequate methods” derived from
chemical toxicity testing.

In defense of genetically modified foods, on February 21, more than 1,000
scientists endorsed these foods as safe, environmentally friendly, and a
useful tool to help feed the developing world. Two Nobel Prize winners
signed the declaration, James Watson and Norman Borlaug. Watson shared the
1962 prize for the discovery of the structure of DNA and Borlaug was
recognized in 1970 for his work developing hybrid wheat to boost food
production in Third World countries.

“The responsible genetic modification of plants is neither new nor
dangerous,” the scientists said.

“The addition of new or different genes into an organism by recombinant DNA
techniques does not inherently pose new or heightened risks relative to the
modification of organisms by more traditional methods, and the relative
safety of marketed products is further ensured by current regulations
intended to safeguard the food supply. The novel genetic tools offer greater
flexibility and precision in the modification of crop plants,” they said.

No food products, whether produced with recombinant DNA techniques or with
more traditional methods, are totally without risk, the scientists
acknowledged. “Our goal as scientists is to ensure that any new foods
produced from recombinant DNA are as safe or safer than foods already being
consumed.”

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