• Kyodo

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A U.N. task force aiming to establish standards for genetically modified foods kicked off a five-day meeting in Chiba on Sunday amid ongoing discord between the United States, which says GM foods are safe, and the European Union, which is more cautious about potential risks in such foods.

On Sunday, EU officials requested that participants first discuss a tracking system for GM foods that would cover production and distribution. U.S. and Japanese officials favored a proposed agenda for discussing “general principles” on safety evaluations of GM foods and a guideline on produce.

Around 35 countries and international organizations are represented in the second meeting of the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Food Derived from Biotechnology held at the Makuhari Messe convention complex in Tokyo’s outskirts.

Nongovernmental organizations representing food makers and consumers have also sent officials to the meeting scheduled through Thursday.

The ad hoc task force plans to produce a final report by 2003 that it hopes will serve as a standard for the World Trade Organization and others in arbitrating international food trade disputes.

The task force is part of the Codex Alimentarius Commission comprising some 170 member states. It was set up jointly by two U.N. bodies — the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization and the Geneva-based World Health Organization.

The meeting is being held as Japanese interest in GM foods grows following news reports that banned StarLink GM corn was detected in food on the local market.

StarLink corn contains a gene that creates a germ-killing substance and can cause allergic reactions in some people.

NGOs opposing GM foods staged a protest around the venue, with members handing out leaflets to passersby.

On Sunday, participants also selected Hiroshi Yoshikura, head of the research institute of the International Medical Center of Japan, as chair of the meeting.

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