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UN officials weigh in on use of biotech food

(Monday, July 7, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Associated Press: ROME -- The United Nations' food standards body said Thursday that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, could help feed developing countries, but warned that the health risks associated with engineered crops needed to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

"In the future, its likely that you can use biotechnology to develop foods that could have positive nutritional affects,'' said Jorgen Schlundt, director of the food safety department at the U.N. World Health Organization.

The comments were made a day after the European Parliament passed legislation introducing tougher labeling of new genetically altered food products- a move that could pave the way to lift a European ban on biotech food.

Schlundt pointed to examples in which crops had been genetically modified to resist pesticides in developed countries, but expressed concern as to how the technology would be applied in undeveloped countries.

"Every GMO is different. If you develop a new type of maize with a GM technology you need to look into a number of things to make sure that it's still safe,'' Schlundt said.

Schlundt made his comments at a news conference on the U.N. Codex Alimentarius Commission- a joint body of the WHO and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization that is meeting in Rome this week.

The session comes at a time when the use of biotech food is at the center of a trade dispute between the European Union and the United States.

Since 1998, the European Union has imposed a moratorium on the farming and import of GMOs for safety concerns. The United States, which widely grows biotech crops like corn and soybeans, has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization to push Europe to lift the ban.

On Thursday, Codex Secretary Alan Randell said the U.N. body remained divided as to whether labeling was a fair and effective policy toward GMOs.

However, he said the European Parliament's decision was not discussed.

Earlier this week, the Codex approved three documents providing guidelines for GMO risk assessment. Among these are procedures for detecting new allergens or toxins that can manifest in a food product when it is genetically modified.