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GCC nations 'will control entry of GM foods'.

Abu Dhabi: The UAE and other GCC member countries will control the entry of genetically modified foods into their markets, top officials said on Tuesday.

"The GCC countries will develop regulations through independent statutory bodies with the power to ban releases of genetically modified foods until agreed standards have been met," said Dr Mariam Harib Sultan Al Yousuf, executive director of policy and regulation at the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority.

Dr Mariam stressed that control of gene technology should not be left to scientists and commercial organisations.

With the prospect of a global food crisis looming, it may be that industry claims about the capacity of genetically modified foods to ensure abundant supplies will eventually be justified.

"By the end of this year," Dr Al Yousuf said, "the GCC countries will come up with a system under which the placing of genetically modified (GM) crops on these countries' markets will require a regulatory approval supported by a thorough safety evaluation, which will be applied to all GM crops before they enter our markets."

Dr Al Yousuf was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the GCC sub-committee for genetically modified foods, held in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

A passionate debate is under way all over the world over the use of genetically modified foods - crops into which "foreign" genes are introduced to make them resistant to pests and adverse weather conditions, according to professor Mohammad Abdul Menem, Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the Emirates University.

"The GM food controversy is a dispute over the advantage and disadvantages of genetically modified food crops. However, there is a lot of research that shows GM foods are safe, while there is very little research which argues that people should not be offered food that may carry some degree of risk," said Professor Abdul Menem.

Crossing barriers

He said plant and animal breeders have always mixed and matched genetic material to create the species of vegetables, fruit and cattle. Those modifications, though, were carried out among closely related species through selection processes using cross-pollination and cross-fertilisation.

"What is unique about today's genetically modified foods is that we can move across species barriers, so that in order to achieve the results we want, we can take genes from a crop or an animal and place them in a crop."

He agreed that the effect foreign gene might have on people who eat the food remains a critical question.

"The same applies to genetically modified crops such as soya, corn and potatoes. They have been developed by multinational chemical firms, which now prefer to describe themselves as "life science companies."

All this is worrying enough, to the extent that genetically modified foods have been dubbed "Frankenstein foods".

Dr Mohammad Abdul Qader, the technical advisor for the Emirates Standards and Metrology Authority, said consumers in GCC countries, which import more than 90 per cent of their foods, have a right to know what they eat and how it is produced even if there is a global consensus that genetically modified foods are safe.

"Authorities in the GCC countries will develop standards for GM foods, these foods will be effectively monitored and tested. The foods or seeds that do not meet these standards will not be allowed into the GCC markets and all GM foods will carry clear labels to help consumers decide on what to eat," said Dr Abdul Qader.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Aug 27, 2008
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