More work is needed on opening up GM assessment to integrate public concerns, attendees at a conference on the possible risks of genetically modified organisms heard this week.
The two-day conference, which was held on 14-15 September by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), aimed to share knowledge and best practices on risk assessment and provide a platform for EFSA to exchange views with the Member States, stakeholders and other participants.
The conference was opened by EFSA executive director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, who pointed out that “the field of GMO is characterized by a significant divergence in opinion among the various actors, low social acceptability and differing views on the potential benefits and beneficiaries of the technology.”
Geslain- Lanéelle reaffirmed EFSA’s role as a provider of scientific advice on GMOs, insisting that “EFSA is neither pro-GMO nor anti-GMO”. She added that it was important for EFSA to clarify its role in the risk assessment of GMOS. “We are here not only to inform but also to listen and learn,” she said.
EC director-general for Health and Consumers, DG Robert Madelin, called for transparency in the GMO risk assessment process. He said that the EU needs to continue to open up the assessment process to integrate public concerns and imbed it in a global context.
Central to the discussion was EFRA’s updated guidelines on risk assessment, which it claims will “strengthen and streamline GMO risk assessment processes, contributing to increase their efficiency and transparency.”
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The environmental impact of GMOs was a particular area of concern. Andreas Heissenberger of Austria’s Environment Agency said that Austria believes Europe’s environmental risk assessment is based on insufficient data and called for it to be improved.
FOE spokesperson Helen Holder also raised concerns over environmental risk assessment, expressing criticism of some of EFSA’s scientific opinions on GMOs.
Speaking for the biotechnology industry, Willy De Greef of Europabio, European Association for Bioindustries, asked for the existing experiences of the safe use of GM crops to be better taken into consideration in EU risk assessment and called for a clearer distinction between risk research and risk assessment.
EFSA said it will consider inputs from the EC, Member States and stakeholders when finalising its updated guidelines. It added that it is holding one of its regular meetings with NGOs on October 2 this year for further dialogue on a number of specific GMO issues.