Published on Friday, February 25, 2000 by Reuters
World Conference On Genetically-Modified Foods Opens Monday
Meeting To Be Broadcast On Internet
by Patricia Reaney

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scientists, regulators and consumer groups will tackle the thorny issue of GM foods at an international conference starting on Monday.

The three-day event organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will focus on the science of genetically modified food, how it is regulated and whether or not it is safe to eat.

Instead of slanging matches between biotechnology giants and environmentalists and consumer activists, the OECD hopes the meeting will provide suggestions for a constructive way forward.

``The philosophy is to try and identify, through having a diversity of views and an open debate, areas of greater convergence and areas of lesser convergence,'' said Sir John Krebs, the conference chairman.

The professor of zoology at Oxford University said 400 delegates from 14 countries would attend the conference.

It is one of a series of meetings organized by the OECD following a request by the Group of Eight (G8) big powers for more information on GM food. Krebs will report the findings of the conference to a G8 meeting in Okinawa in July.

``Potentially the report could have a significant impact on the thinking of major countries in the world,'' he said.

Live On The Internet

Professor Arpad Pusztai, whose research sparked an international row about the safety of GM food, and Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation who is credited with convincing biotechnology giant Monsanto Co to stop using its ``terminator'' gene technology, will attend.

``I have tried to get as many of the people who are concerned about GM technology into the conference. Nobody can accuse us of sidelining the worriers,'' said Krebs.

Scientists will discuss the latest trends in crop genetics, the impact of GM foods on diet and nutrition and the possibility of using GM foods, such as golden rice which produces extra vitamin A, to improve human health.

Delegates from the developing world will be able to voice their concerns at the meeting which will be broadcast live on the Internet ( Members of the public can listen to the speakers and submit questions which will be presented to the delegates.

Krebs does not expect to find a magic solution to the GM dilemma, but he said one idea that may emerge from the conference is a global approach to biotechnology.

``What its structure would be one can't tell, but there are precedents for having an international forum for debating scientific issues where science interfaces with policy, for example the intergovernmental panel on climate change,'' he said. ``It could be a way forward.''


Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited.