November 9, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- The Independent (UK):
Britain will try to break a five-year Europe-wide moratorium
on new GM foods tomorrow by attempting to give the go-ahead
for a modified sweetcorn to be put on sale to shoppers.
But The Independent on Sunday can reveal that an official
report shows the corn has not been properly tested for
The move to approve the sweetcorn - developed by the
biotech firm Syngenta and incorporating an insecticide
- will be made by a European Union committee. The Food
Standards Agency, which represents Britain on the committee,
is pushing for it to be given the green light, against
the wishes of environment and agriculture ministers.
No new GM foods have been approved for consumers anywhere
in the EU since 1998, when a moratorium was imposed.
But the Bush administration has campaigned against the
halt, and the approval of the sweetcorn - codenamed
Bt11 - is seen as a "symbolic gesture" to
appease the United States.
Ministers are reluctant to give the go-ahead at a time
when they have promised to consider the results of the
Government's own consultation of the public this summer
before taking action: the consultation showed that only
8 per cent of Britons would gladly eat GM food. But
the FSA - which has been widely criticised for being
pro-GM and anti-organic produce - is defying them, taking
the view that it can see no reason not to approve the
The agency's position, however, is exploded by the
report, which concludes that safety testing of GM foods
- including the sweetcorn - has been sporadic, non-existent,
or based on assumptions that cannot be verified. The
report - Toxikologie und Allergologie von GVO-Produkten
- is the result of a study "to investigate the
practice of safety evaluation" carried out by the
Austrian government, and is relevant to Britain because
the tests and approval process are carried out on an
EU-wide basis. The study focused on 11 applications
covering maize, beet, potato, oilseed rape, cotton and
carnations, as well as the Bt11 sweetcorn.
It says that tests for toxicity of GM products are
"carried out rather sporadically". Not one
of the applications made by biotech firms for approval
of the proposed foods and plants provided information
on the toxicity of the whole product, and most of such
tests as had been carried out "cannot be verified
or reviewed". It goes on: "GM products are
very often declared as being safe just by assumption-based
reasoning" but adds that "these assumptions
are sometimes not easily, or not at all, verifiable".
Meanwhile systematic "risk-assessment procedures"
for the applications are "lacking".
Checking for "potentially allergic properties"
of the products, one of the main concerns surrounding
GM foods, is even more deficient. Here, the report reveals
"no direct testing ... was carried out". Such
indirect evidence as was assembled was "insufficient",
and some of the scientific references provided to "confirm
the safety of the products ... are cited wrongly, or
are outdated, or are even suspected to be selectively
In the absence of proper testing, biotech companies
have traditionally relied merely on asserting that GM
foods are "substantially equivalent" to their
non-GM counterparts, and regulatory authorities have
waved them through on that basis.
But the Austrian government report shows that the applications
- including the one for the sweetcorn to be considered
tomorrow - fail even this undemanding requirement. It
says that the concept is used "to argue for the
safety" of every GM product it considered, but
added: "The parameters chosen ... are not comprehensive
enough to justify substantial equivalence and/or to
detect probable unintended secondary effects."
Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said last night:
"The report clearly shows that safety testing is
a sham. Yet the Food Standards Agency is over-ruling
ministers by planning to give this new GM food the go-ahead.
"The agency was set up on the basis of putting
the consumer first and should respect the clearly expressed
view of the British people rather than flouting them
in favour of its own prejudices." The FSA declined