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 safety.
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 modified food.
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 to comment.