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3-Food: Call for moratorium on GE food in UK

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Leader from the UK Guardian

Flaws in the food chain 
We need a moratorium 

Guardian (London) Friday February 12, 1999

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 
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 
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 
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 
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 
past, we can affect the future. And we simply don't know. The third 
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 
which Mr Hague was quick to jump. But that is not true. There is a 
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 doubters. 

-| 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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