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European GM Food Fears Roll Across The Atlantic

By Amanda Bentham in London

European concerns about genetically modified food have led G8 leaders to place GM foods alongside Aids and the millennium bug, as one of the greatest threats facing the planet.

The move, while partly cosmetic, shows the growing rift between the US and Britain, who see GM food as a potential economic boon, and the European members of the G8 who view the new technology as a threat to food safety publicly. Many in the pro-GM food camp also believe that European concerns are based on the threat their already heavily subsidised and inefficient agricultural sector faces from the new technology.

However, both Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, were rolled into agreeing to a new global inquiry into the safety of GM foods at the in Cologne summit. German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder backed an initiative of French President Jacques Chirac and placed GM food on the agenda, using his power as head of the host nation.

GM food was included under 'global threats' along with Aids and the millennium bug. This Franco-German alliance symbolises European concerns for food safety following a long series of scares that began with mad cow disease and has recently raised its head again with the dioxin scare in Belgium. There are similar fears amongst a growing number of Britons and opposition is also beginning to grow in the US, where some 70 million acres of modified soya beans, tomatos, wheat and cotton are now grown. Washington and Brussels are at loggerheads over GM technology, with the US threatening an all-out trade war if Europe tries to ban GM food.

The inquiry will see two technical committees of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development collate information from around the world to ensure that every country has access to the best research on the effects of genetic modification.

Both extremes of the argument cautiously welcoming the move. Environmentalists welcomed the development but warned they would not be 'duped by international committees interested in rubber-stamping products of biotechnology firms'.

Monsanto, the US firm behind GM crops, also welcomed the inquiry, saying it hoped it would speed up international approval of their products.

The news came as the British government axed plans to tax food retailers about $270 a year to pay for a new food safety watchdog. Instead the more than $120 million needed annually to run the new agency would be funded through general taxation.

The bill establishing the agency was published yesterday and the Labour party is hoping to get it through Parliament, but not the Lords by the summer recess.

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