BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ Research on genetically modified plants and derived products so far developed and marketed has not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding, according to a new report from the European Commission.

Where usual risk assessment procedures are followed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny ¿probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods,¿ the report says, basing its view on a study unveiled in Brussels Tuesday on the results of the biosafety research it has supported over the last 15 years.

If there are unforeseen environmental effects ¿ and none has appeared as yet, says the upbeat assessment from the Commission ¿ ¿these should be rapidly detected by our monitoring requirements.¿ Meanwhile, ¿the benefits of these plants and products for human health and the environment become increasingly clear.¿

The report was presented to a round table on safety research on genetically modified organisms, set up by European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, and which held its first meeting Tuesday. The group ¿ yet another in the cavalcade of consultation exercises that the European Commission currently is conducting to boost sympathy for biotechnology and high-technology medicines in Europe ¿ brings together European biosafety researchers and other bodies such as consumer organizations, national governments and industry.

The aim, the Commission said, is ¿to ensure that up-to-date knowledge accompanies the safe use of GMOs.¿ The round table is also intended to allow interested parties to discuss results coming out of European Union research and to identify new areas on which to focus research.

Busquin said, ¿Between the enthusiastic exaggeration of certain GMO crusaders¿ and the radicalism of a minority among their opponents, there is an urgent need to find room for a reasonable compromise, based on sound and measured scientific arguments of risk assessment and prudent management.¿ He said the round table aims to present to a broad range of European stakeholders the results of EU-supported research, and ¿to overcome existing prejudices on all sides and avoid sterile polarization.¿

The first meeting focused on Bt maize, which was one of the first GM crops to be approved for cultivation in Europe, back in January 1997. It aimed to start an informal reconciliation procedure between continuing divergent opinions on the subject in Europe, which leaves Europe still divided over how to deal with this product. Some EU member states have banned Bt maize from their territories, despite early monitoring to assess any potential adverse effects for human health and the environment, practical experience in Spain in producing Bt maize, and the fact that large areas of Bt maize are being grown in third countries (particularly the U.S.), which also have monitoring programs.

¿The good news ¿ that no significant problems have been encountered ¿ doesn¿t always reach the public and political debate,¿ the Commission said.

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