21 February 1997

GMuse rules under

fire…

EU RULES covering the use of genetically modified organisms were criticised by campaign groups and the biotech industry.

Dr Gavin Cree, chairman of the Bioindustry Associations regulatory affairs advisory committee, called for a revision of EU regulation, claiming it was badly worded, not based on a scientific assessment of risk, and was affecting the growth of EU biotech companies.

"We are not competing effectively with the US and the evidence is there that one of the reasons is regulation," said Dr Cree.

Figures for the agriculture and food sector showed that 1850 field trials were carried out in the US between 1987 and 1995, compared with 550 in the EU.

The research resulted in 20 market approvals for transgenic products in the US in that period, compared with less than five for the EU.

"What the figures do not show is the average approval time – for the EU this is two years, for the US it is half that," added Dr Cree.

Julie Sheppard of the Genetics Forum also attacked the regulatory system, claiming that the public could no longer rely on the regulator, which in the UK was MAFF, to act in its interest. Consumers were finding GM products in the food chain which they had no knowledge of, with the apparent connivance of government, said Ms Sheppard. Businesses were also finding that the regulators seal of approval for GM products was worthless.

Nick Tomlinson, head of MAFFs novel food and processes branch, claimed that "a comprehensive framework" of legislation was in place.

But Ms Sheppard said there were no formal requirements for assessing the impact of GMOs on the environment, she said. Information was obtained from field trials, but these could give a false sense of security about the risk when GM crops were grown as monocultures.

Evidence of the real impact of GM crops could not be gathered without systematic and independent monitoring, she said.

Genetic engineering could help meet increased global demand for food. But key concerns over its use were also raised at a conference at the Royal Society of Medicine. Liz Mason reports