21 February 1997

Biotechworry comes to fore at SWevent

FARMERS concerns about how consumers will react to foods made from genetically engineered crops also dominated question time at Cargills arable conference at Blandford, Dorset.

Delegates highlighted their worries that they might be liable for damages if anything went wrong (such as resistance to antibiotics as a result of using marker genes) and that consumers might simply decide they did not want food made from genetically modified crops.

Somerset grower Archie Montgomery commented on the arrogance of the North Americans in mixing GM crops with conventional crop, leaving buyers unable to choose.

Replying on behalf of Monsanto, which licenses the technology to transfer genes to crop plants which give resistance to its herbicide Roundup, Lindy Margach said Monsanto had worked closely with seed companies and processors, and with consumer organisations.

"All the regulatory authorities in the USA, Canada, Argentina, EU and Japan, have said the Roundup-ready soyabean is effectively the same as any other soyabean and there is no need to segregate and label it. So we see no reason to segregate it and have not been asked to do so."

Monsanto had regularly met the environmental and consumer organisations to brief them on the new technology. It had also worked with retailers to produce fact sheets for supermarkets.

Antibiotic marker genes used by Monsanto were not from antibiotics used for human treatment, she added.

John Burns