24 July 1998

Small GM trial is not typical

CURRENT small-scale field trials of genetically modified crops are inappropriate for assessing the impact of GM crops on the environment, according to leading biologist Mark Williamson of York University.

Giving evidence to the House of Lords select committee, Prof Williamson said that although he thought the risks to human health from GM organisms were small to zero and that there were significant benefits of introducing GM crops, large-scale trials were needed to assess the impact of a modified crop planted commercially.

He warned that the techniques in agriculture were only acceptable if there was widespread public acceptance and he commented that biotechnology firms investing £ millions in advertising should instead spend the money on ensuring that GM and traditionally produced foods were segregated.

He also said certain areas of the current EU regulations on risk assessment were useless because the questions used to gain information could not be answered objectively. And while he recognised the document was an attempt to create regulations for a disaster which may occur decades from now, he urged the EU to establish a better framework for assessing the possible impact of GM techniques.

Prof Williamson, however, did not think a moratorium on growing GM crops was appropriate because that would only defer decision making. Decisions were needed now, he insisted