July 24, 2000
PRESIDENT BILL Clinton criticised European leaders for moving too slowly on the promotion of genetically modified foods yesterday, after three days of talks among the Group of Eight leaders failed to overcome intense trans -Atlantic differences over the future of biotechnology.
"You know that I believe that," he said, when asked if he thought Europe is being too cautious on GM foods. "If we could get more of this golden rice, which is a genetically modified strain of rice, especially rich in vitamin A, out to the developing world, it could save 40,000 lives a day, people that are malnourished and dying."
"If it's safe - that's the big issue," he said, at a press conference with Tony Blair. "All the evidence that I've seen convinces me, based on what all the scientists know now, that it is."
Despite a determination to present a harmonious front at the end of the three -day summit of the G8 in the Japanese island of Okinawa, the leaders made little attempt to disguise their dispute over GM foods.
"There is the thesis supported by Jean Chretien (the Canadian Prime Minister) and Bill Clinton that GM foods aren't dangerous," said Jacques Chirac, the French President. "Then there is the other school, that of Europe and Japan, that considers the potential consequences for health and environment require precaution and scientific certitude."
Both France and the United States have powerful farming lobbies. Hundreds of US farmers who are growing GM crops, produced by companies such as Monsanto, have found their markets disappearing through a widespread refusal to buy them.
New US government figures show that the planting of GM corn and soya is decreasing, after years of rapid expansion, and even US shoppers are turning against the foods.
The European policy of "precaution," meanwhile, meansGM foods are assumed to be unsafe until proven otherwise. "You have all of Europe stressing the principle of precaution," the European Commission President Romano Prodi said after the summit.
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said the leaders were considering setting up an independent panel to promote further discussion of the issue. The leaders, however, did not immediately endorse such an organisation.
The final communique issued at the end of the summit made no direct mention of biotechnology as an area of concern, but referred to the "potential risks associated with food" in general.
Highlighting the different points of view expressed, it also called for helping the "capacity building (of developing countries) to harness the potentials of biotechnology," in a nod to the US position.
The statement said the G8 would explore how to "integrate the best scientific knowledge available into the global process of consensus building on biotechnology and other aspects of food and crop safety."
"This whole science of biotechnology is perhaps going to be for the first half of the 21st century what information technology was to the last half of the 20th century," said Mr Blair. "There are intensely held views on both sides, but the most important thing is that we get access to the best scientific evidence."
There was more consensus among the leaders concerning the nearly complete mapping of the human genome.
The communique praised the breakthrough as a "dramatic and welcome step" and urged fair intellectual property protection. On the genome, "there was no problem, no difficulty and no disagreement," Mr Chirac said.
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Last Updated on 7/26/00