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US-funded GM talks kick off


Agriculture ministers from around the world are gathering in Sacramento, California today for the start of a three-day conference on genetically engineered food and farming. With the breakdown of discussions last week between the US and Europe over genetically modified foodstuffs, talks may well be tense.

The three-day Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology received $3 million from the US Department and is expecting ministers from more than 100 nations.

USDA officials said the meeting is designed to help developing countries reduce hunger and improve nutrition using advanced technology. They say biotechnology can help reduce pesticide use and yield better harvests than conventional crops, helping preserve the environment and improving health.

Only last month the United States filed a case with the World Trade Organisation, charging that the European Union must end its ban on genetically modified food. The two sides met last week to discuss the issue, where Europe underlined 'its legitimate right to establish a regulatory regime to ensure that GMOs are only put on the market on the basis of a careful assessment of risks'. But talks broke down.

Remaining upbeat this week, US Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman - who is hosting the Californian event - told a news conference : "This conference offers policymakers in developing countries a unique opportunity to focus on what science and technology can do for their farmers, their consumers and their countries."

Veneman has argued that biotechnology can go a long way towards feeding the world's 800 million people who consistently suffer from hunger by boosting global production of grains and other crops.

Critics of genetically modified foodstuffs argue that not enough is known about the possible impact these foods can have on health and the environment.