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Vested interests and flawed science behind Amflora GM potato

BRUSSELS – More than half of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) panel responsible for giving the go-ahead for the approval of BASF’s genetically modified (GM) Amflora potato in 2010 had conflicts of interest, according to new research published by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) [1].

The panel’s scientific opinion, which led to political approval by the EU Commission, ignored key medical advice about the possible risks of using antibiotic-resistant marker genes. This advice is likely to be used in the coming months by EFSA and the Commission to justify the approval for cultivation in the EU of two other GM plants created by biotech giant Monsanto [2].

The report is published ahead of a hearing in the European Parliament on Wednesday on the independence of the science used by the European agencies [3]. On Monday the Executive Director of EFSA, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle faced questions from the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee in the Parliament over conflicts of interest.

CEO found that 12 of the 21 members on EFSA’s GMO panel that gave the scientific go-ahead to Amflora in June 2009 had conflicts of interest, as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Even though none of the panel members had medical expertise in the use of antibiotics, they ruled that the antibiotics targeted by Amflora’s resistant gene were of “no or only minor therapeutic relevance”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) classified the same antibiotics as being “critically important” in 2005 [4].

CEO’s report, Approving the GM potato: conflicts of interest, flawed science and fierce lobbying, shows how the GMO panel simply backed an earlier judgement on antibiotic marker genes from 2004, based on recommendations put forward by a controversial GM research project, rather than accepting the WHO advice.

That 2004 GMO panel opinion simply copy-pasted the contested classification of the antibiotics from a paper produced by ENTRANSFOOD, an EU-sponsored research consortium with high biotech industry involvement, aimed at making GM foods more accepted by the European public.

Corporate Europe Observatory campaigner Nina Holland said:
“Many EFSA experts on the panel had close links to the biotech industry. Their advice downplaying the relevance of two antibiotics was taken straight from industry and ignored global expert medical advice. There should be a truly independent reassessment of BASF’s GM potato Amflora – and the safety of the other GM crops currently pending approval which rely on the same technology.”

Two other GM plants which use the same antibiotic marker gene – both cottons – are currently pending approval for cultivation in the EU.

The research highlights the key role of the chair of EFSA’s GMO panel, Harry Kuiper, who is known to have close links to the biotech industry. He not only chaired the 2004 GMO panel, but also coordinated ENTRANSFOOD, which drew up the original position on the use of antibiotic resistant genes.

In addition, the report shows how BASF’s fierce lobbying campaign put huge pressure on the European Commission to grant approval for Amflora.

CEO is calling for an independent review of the scientific opinion provided by EFSA on the use of antibiotic-resistant marker genes – and for all pending applications for GM plants containing the controversial gene to be suspended.
ENDS

Contact:
Nina Holland (English, Dutch, French):
Mobile: +31 (0)6 30 28 50 42     email: nina@corporateeurope.org

Notes:
[1] Amflora’s hot potato: a story of conflicts of interest, flawed science and fierce lobbying, Corporate Europe Observatory, November 2011, see http://www.corporateeurope.org/publications/approving-gm-potato-conflict...
[2] An insect-resistant cotton (MON531) and a Roundup-tolerant cotton (MON1445) are awaiting approval for cultivation in the EU.
[3] On Wednesday 9 November Corinne Lepage MEP hosts a hearing in the European Parliament questioning the independence of science used by regulatory agencies including EFSA.
[4] The Amflora potato contains the nptII gene, an antibiotic resistance marker gene for neomycin and kanamycin, cl

 

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