7 October 1999
GM food tests ‘meaningless’

BRITISH scientists have criticised the testing of genetically modified (GM) foods as meaningless.

In the journal Nature, University of Sussex scientists argue that toxicology tests such as those used to produce drugs and pesticides need to be introduced.

The scientists claim that unless these are carried out, no one can safely claim that GM foods are not harming peoples health.

They say the government is sacrificing health to the interests of the biotechnology industry.

The scientists concerns centre on a system known as “substantial equivalence”.

This is based on the notion that the current wave of GM crops is no different from traditional crops and that the proteins produced will be similar.

But the researchers dismiss this concept as a “pseudo-scientific concern” which is a commercial and political judgement masquerading as a scientific one.

The attack came as the chief executive of biotechnology company Monsanto admitted his company had “irritated and antagonised people” in promoting GM crops.

Robert Shapiro made the admission at a special debate in London organised by the environmental group Greenpeace.

He signalled that the company would take a more conciliatory approach with farmers and environmental groups.

Monsantos decision this week not to sell the so-called “terminator” varieties of its seeds wins approval from a letter writer to the Financial Times..

The writer argues that the gene, “which ensures that seeds are sterile” offers an effective means of controlling any potential contamination by GM crops.