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Philippine Peasants Suffer Health Problems from Breathing in GMO Corn Pollen

http://news.nasdaq.com/news/newsStory.aspx?&cpath=20040224\ACQDJON2004022406
12DOWJONESDJONLINE000391.htm

UPDATE: US Downplays European Fears Over Biotech Crops

KUALA LUMPUR (AP)--The U.S. downplayed fears of genetically modified foods as
an "overreaction" Tuesday, but Norwegian researchers reported villagers in the Philippines had suffered ailments after living near a biotech cornfield.

The dispute over genetically modified food took center-stage at a five-day U.N. conference on biotechnology safety, with U.S. officials pitted against the European Union and environmentalists over controls on bio-engineered products.

Richard White, a member of a U.S. observer team, blamed intense concerns over
health by European consumers on "things in Europe, like mad cow disease,
foot- and-mouth disease, and dioxin in animal feed."

These hazards, White said, "have shaken the confidence of the European consumer to the point that there is extreme sensitivity or overreactions" to genetically modified food.

"Consumers in the United States are, by and large, not interested or concerned
about biotech products in their food," said White, director of Sanitary Affairs in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

But Greenpeace spokeswoman Doreen Stabinsky disagreed, saying the U.S. population's acceptance of biotech foods was "a reaction of ignorance" because most people never realize they are eating modified ingredients or share Europe's awareness of potential risks.

Separately, Terje Traavik, director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, announced a study claiming that villagers who lived next to a plantation of biotech maize in the southern Philippines suffered fevers and respiratory, intestinal and skin ailments in late 2003.

Blood tests indicated the symptoms resulted from inhaling mutated maize pollen
that had been airborne, Traavik said.

Differences over the biotech safety have triggered lobbying by the U.S. and Europe to promote their views at conferences dealing with the issues, like the one in this Southeast Asian city this week.

Government officials, scientists and environmentalists from more than 80 countries are meeting to debate biotech shipping for the first time since the
Cartagena Protocol - a multilateral U.N. accord on biosafety and its implications for trade - came into force last September.

The U.S., which hasn't signed the protocol, is lobbying for loose labeling requirements - or none - for products with genetically engineered ingredients.

Washington also started action at the World Trade Organization last August to
get the European Union to lift its 6-year-old barriers on new biotech foods.

U.S. officials have scheduled twice-daily briefings for delegates since the conference began Monday to assure countries that biotech crops are safe and to dispute claims by environmentalists that Washington is denying foreign consumers the right to reject genetically modified foods.

Biotech opponents also campaigned, warning that eating engineered ingredients
might eventually trigger allergies and other health problems, while their cultivation could contaminate other organisms, including bacteria, with antibiotic-resistant genes.

Environmentalists have warned that efforts to standardize trade guidelines were being hamstrung by the U.S. and other major exporters of genetically engineered organisms - including Canada and Argentina - that haven't ratified
the Cartagena Protocol.

-Edited by Mary de Wet

Corrected February 24, 200406:26 ET (11:26 GMT)

Separately, Terje Traavik, director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, announced a study claiming that villagers who lived next to a plantation of biotech maize in the southern Philippines suffered fevers and respiratory, intestinal and skin ailments in late 2003.

(In an item timed at 1112 GMT, the name of the institute announcing the study
was misstated.)

Dow Jones Newswires
02-24-040612ET