28 November 1997

GM food safety will be assessed first

By Tony McDougal

GENETICALLY modified food will not be allowed to go on sale in the UK without first being thoroughly assessed for safety, according to junior farm minister Jeff Rooker.

His comments came at the same time as MAFFs Plant Varieties and Rights Office demanded more information from Plant Genetic Systems NV, which has applied to market glufosinate-resistant oilseed rape in the UK.

The rape is likely to be the first commercially grown GM crop in the UK. But MAFF says it will not make a decision until January, when more information about the product is available.

Friends of the Earth is calling for a moratorium on the growing of the crop, claiming the glufosinate tolerance will spread to both non-GM oilseed rape and weeds, producing super-weeds.

Adrian Bebb, FoE biotechnology spokesman, said plants could develop multiple resistance to other herbicides, such as Monsan-tos Round-Up.

"As the agrochemical companies are in competition, and all are trying to develop the market for their own particular variety, it is possible that adjacent fields of oilseed rape could be resistant to different chemicals."

Meanwhile, retailers are to label genetically modified soya or maize protein from Jan 1998 following consultations with the NFU and biotechnology experts.

Guy Walker, Food and Drink Federation president, said it was vital that labelling of genetically modified foods was consistent so that consumers were not confused.

An EU directive earlier this year, determining that retailers should use the term "may contain GM soya", was confusing and unhelpful, Mr Walker said. Instead, products would be positively labelled, telling consumers that they did contain GMOs, if that was the case.

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker has officially opened an exhibition on genetically modified food at Londons Science Museum. The exhibition, which runs until Mar 29, looks at how genes can help improve food products, and which designer foods will be available in supermarkets in the next century. Prof Dick Flavell, of the John Innes Centre, Norwich, said at the launch that he believed advances in biotechnology would lead to increased crop yields and sustainable food production.