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Anti-GM foods campaigners vow int'l cooperation for safety+.

CHIBA, Japan, March 15 Kyodo

Civic group members against genetically modified (GM) organisms from Japan, South Korea and the United States vowed Wednesday to fight for consumer protection by sharing experiences in pressuring their governments.

"I think it's critically important that we support each other...and that we share experiences, energies and knowledge," Philip Bereano, professor at the University of Washington, told campaigners at a meeting in Chiba, east of Tokyo.

"Hopefully that's the way we would influence the deliberations of the Codex committee here and biotech foods," he said.

Bereano's remark was welcomed by some 150 citizens, farmers and consumer group representatives at the meeting aimed at influencing a four-day conference of the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology, which kicked off at Makuhari Messe convention complex in the Chiba Prefecture capital on Tuesday.

About 250 participants from 37 countries and 24 institutions have been discussing measures to draw up safety standards for GM foods in the task force's first meeting. In Tuesday's session, they agreed on creation of two working groups to work on regulation of GM products.

Michael Hansen, a U.S. biotech expert and member of Consumers International, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) observing the conference, indicated Japan will likely chair one of the two working groups and urged citizens to keep up pressure on the government so that it can "move into the right direction."

Kwang Mo Chung, president of the Consumers Union of (South) Korea, also stressed the importance of international cooperation between NGOs, and urged the Japanese government to act independently of the United States, which she said tries to hamper the efforts of other, mainly European, countries to set strict standards for GM foodstuffs.

The United States is the world's largest exporter of GM products, and importers of GM foodstuffs from the U.S., including Japan and South Korea, have taken cautious positions on such foods, she said. Both countries will mandate labeling of GM foods from next spring.

Chung, who has been engaged in the consumers' movement for more than 30 years, said the intergovernmental conference is being held because GM foods arouse serious concerns among citizens and demanded that the U.S. prove the safety of their GM products.

Bereano and Hansen pointed out that U.S. citizens' awareness of GM products remained very low until a few years ago, compared with their counterparts in Europe and Japan, because of insufficient information given to them.

As many as three quarters of U.S. people do not even know what the acronym GM means, Bereano said, and criticized the U.S. government's attitude of publicly claiming that American citizens are willing to eat GM foods.

Bereano also accused the U.S. government of considering its role as a feeder of the world, and claimed it is wrong to believe "new technology is good." The concept is widely shared by the country's food companies, scientists and farmers, he said.

Chung also rapped GM food manufacturers' claim that their products will help erase starvation around the world and said they should first consider "dividend control" by reducing the food supply gap between industrialized and developing countries.

The gathering, hosted by the Japan NGO Committee, an umbrella organization for 40 Japanese civic groups, also featured tasting of domestic GM organisms-free foods and theatrical performance by farmers.

The ad hoc task force, a body under the 165-member Codex Alimentarius Commission jointly set up by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, aims to draw up scientific safety standards for GM foodstuffs by 2003.

The commission's food standards are treated by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as de facto international criteria, and WTO members are required to follow the standards in principle.
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Comment:Anti-GM foods campaigners vow int'l cooperation for safety+.
Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 20, 2000
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