22 June 2001

Health still at risk from GMs

By Donald MacPhail

APPROVAL procedures for genetically modified food are inadequate to protect either human or livestock health, claim environmental campaigners.

Friends of the Earth say current procedures are unlikely to detect unexpected health effects, such as toxins or allergens which could be caused by GM foods.

Problems will worsen with the next generation of GM foods which are likely to use more complicated modifications, claims the group in a report entitled The Great Food Gamble. Complex crops could include sugar beet with high levels of "low-calorie sugar" fructans, potatoes with altered levels of starch and oilseed rape producing high lauric acid oil.

CropGen, which is funded by biotech companies to make the scientific case for GM crops, dismissed these accusations insisting that GM food is "safest of all".

Friends of the Earth GM food campaigner Adrian Bebb said: "This report sounds the alarm bell over GM food safety.

"There is clearly a large difference between our ability to create GM crops and foods, and our ability to test whether they are safe to eat.

FoE says "imprecise and blunt methods" used to insert new genes could lead to alterations to the composition of GM foods, including increased levels of toxins.

Changes have been reported in Novartis, Aventis and Pioneer Hi-Bred maize varieties, Monsanto soya, and Zeneca tomato, claims the group.

Concerns about differences are being explained away by "substantial equivalence", which is used as a baseline for GM safety tests, it claims.

FoE says foods significantly different to conventional foods have escaped rigorous testing because they have been "inexplicably" been deemed substantially equivalent.

But this is strongly rejected by CropGen chair Professor Vivian Moses. "Small variations of this sort occur all the time in agricultural plant varieties," he said.

"If FoE are to make a case for this they will have to show that these cases are different."

He said there was nothing underhand in moves to licence GM crops and that details on licensing procedures were widely available.

"No GM product is licensed for human food sale until it has satisfactorily passed years of testing." &#42