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3-Food: Dr. Pusztai vindicated (2) - Call for a moratorium

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GUARDIAN 12/02/1999 P23


THE PRESSURE for a moratorium on genetically modified food - at least 
until more rigorous testing has been done - is beginning to look like a 
tidal wave. It has produced an unholy alliance of William Hague, John 
Redwood, leftward-leaning lobbies and the European Parliament (which 
yesterday voted for legislation that could make biotech companies legally 
responsible for the adverse effects of releasing organisms).

Yesterday, the Consumers Association urged the Government to block 
further GM products pending overhaul of the regulatory system - the first 
call for a ban in its 40 year history. There is a case for calling a halt 
if only to allow time for the fog to lift. Let's be clear: genetically 
modified food may turn out to be one of the great achievements of the 
twentieth century that will enrich our lives and bring cheaper, 
pesticide-free produce. Talk of Frankenstein foods is completely 
misleading. In the much longer run it may help to feed the poorer parts 
of the world by producing crops that grow in conditions of drought or 
salt (though no one yet knows how to do such things). But because of its 
very nature - manipulating the life process itself - it involves a huge 
leap into the unknown that could have truly fearsome consequences. It is 
for this reason that new products must be tested in a far more rigorous 
and independent way even than other food products. The understandable 
desire of pioneering corporations to get an early return on the vast sums 
they have invested must not stand in the way of protecting the consumer. 
Memories of BSE are still too strong for new risks to be taken with the 
food chain when doubts remain. There are several lessons to be drawn from 
the disturbing reports we published today of how suppressed research by 
Dr Arpad Pusztai linking genetically modified potatoes to health risks 
led an international group of 22 scientists to express their concern to 
the Guardian.

The first is that if the safety of GM foods is a real issue - and it is 
then the research on which it is based must be open and beyond 
contention. The results of studies on rats of the kind Dr Pusztai has 
conducted are notoriously difficult to transfer to humans. If they had 
been we would have cured cancer ages ago. But that's not the point. 
Animal studies are our first line of defence and if research fails that 
test there is no point in pursuing it for humans unless proved otherwise.

Second, we should be doubly on alert when an issue like this is 
complicated by the spectre of business, science and government forcing 
through an unwelcome and uninvited extension of the run of foods on the 
public when the question how dangerous they could be is unanswered. 
Protagonists of GM foods would argue that it is a bit ironic that a 
public addicted to synthetic or junk foods should start worrying about 
tiny genetic alterations to staple crops that have been undergoing 
genetic alterations by random mutation, accident and natural selection 
for thousands of years. But, again, that's not the point. We can't 
rewrite the past, we can affect the future. And we simply don't know.

The third lesson is to underline the necessity of labelling every food 
product that currently contains GM constituents in a clear way so people 
at least know what they are buying. Tony Blair may feel that he is a 
victim of another media bandwagon - on to which re is a growing consensus 
of people and experts of all persuasion deeply concerned about this leap 
into the unknown. Mr Blair should seize the initiative and declare a 
moratorium until further research can satisfy the burgeoning band of 

-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| Germany
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax  : #49-551-7701672
-| email:

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