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3-Food: GM foods: A week in the news

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GM foods: A WEEK IN THE NEWS - February 8-13 1999


- Mori poll shows that 57 per cent of the public are concerned about
genetically modified food.

- American scientists warn that there could be global consequences of
using GM foods. Professor Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois
School of Public Health says: "Genetic modification of food is a dangerous
game of ecological roulette."


- Green campaigners and senior Tories call for Science Minister Lord
Sainsbury to be removed from his post over allegations that he still
retains control of the charitable trust the Gatsby Foundation. Gatsby has
spent #18m on researching genetically engineered organisms since 1990,
although Sainsbury's only links are the power to hire and fire the
foundation's trustees. Gatsby also finances a "public information service"
- promoting genetically modified food - called Biotechnology in Our

- Friends of the Earth chairman Charles Secrett says: "When Sainsbury
comes out of government he is likely to be handed back his commercial
interests in GM food. His laboratory will be at the forefront of the
science partly because of the money he indirectly donated through
research. And there is the probability of a culture of acceptance of GM
food that as a minister he is likely to have helped to foster."


- Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker concedes that GM food does pose "a
really serious problem". He warns food producers that consumers will vote
with their feet unless their concerns are listened to.

- Labour MEP David Bowe says new British regulations could pre-empt
Brussels' own plan to introduce tighter controls. "I feel we might see
British legislation before we are finally finished with European
legislation," he says.

- Cabinet enforcer Jack Cunningham - who banned beef-on-the-bone as
Agriculture Minister - attacks the Tories for calling for a three-year
moratorium on GM food, saying it undermines public confidence and damages
British prospects.

- A survey carried out by market research company Mintel shows that the
vast majority of people want the Government to introduce food labelling in
supermarkets showing if a product has been genetically modified. The
Report into Food Safety finds that GM foods are of concern to 36 per cent
of consumers with 78 per cent calling for them to be clearly labelled.


Dr Arpad Pusztai, who was forced to retire by the Rowett Research
Institute and condemned for saying GM foods could damage human health, is
backed by 20 scientists from around the world. He left the
government-funded institute in Aberdeen last August after his research
suggested a link between GM food and ill health in rats.

Vyvyan Howard, a toxipathologist at Liverpool University and one of the
scientists who is backing Dr Pusztai, explains: "We find that his data is
sound. We think it would pass peer review and be published, and we are at
a loss to explain why the Rowett Institute came to the conclusion it did."

The Government's handling of the GM food issue is criticised when Mr
Cunningham is accused of misleading MPs into believing that its official
wildlife advisers, English Nature, had not recommended a three-year
moratorium on GM crops.

English Nature's chairman, Lady Young, said they were not asking for a ban
of all crops but only those likely to damage the countryside. Delegates
from the Genetix Food Alert campaign, which represents more than 100
health food companies, present a petition to Downing Street which calls
for a five-year ban on the use of GM food and the wholesale commercial
growing of GM crops.


- Food safety campaigners warn supermarkets that they may face legal
action if GM foods cause illness. Tim Lobstein, who is co-director of the
Food Commission, the consumer watchdog, warns: "If there are implications
for public health in the future as a result of GM ingredients being put in
the food chain then this may raise the question of legal liability."

- Safeway says it will sell products containing GM ingredients provided it
has approval from the appropriate regulatory authorities and "tangible
benefits" for consumers. Meanwhile Asda says that it is working to remove
all GM ingredients from its own-brand products. Iceland and Marks &
Spencer have responded to reports of public aversion to so-called
Frankenstein foods by not stocking them at all.

- Greenpeace launches a campaign against GM food. Campaign director Doug
Parr says: "If the genetic modification process is causing problems then
the Government should apply the precautionary principle."

- Patrick Holden, who is director of the Soil Association, says: "The
Government must stop all imports of GM foods on the grounds of safety.
Consumers are clearly extremely concerned and rightly so."

- At a Westminster news conference Dr Ronald Finn, past president of the
British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, says: "We could be
going into a mad cow situation."

- Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Tim Yeo calls for
the sacking of Jack Cunningham. "The Prime Minister should sack Jack
Cunningham for deliberately misleading the House of Commons over the
position of English Nature and a moratorium."


Retailers fear disaster at the impact of customers' fears about GM foods.
The umbrella group, the British Retail Consortium, writes to the
Government, warning that billions of pounds of profits are at stake if
customers start to lose confidence. Somerfield/Kwik Save vow to order GM
labelling on its own-label brands. Waitrose is working on phasing out all
GM products in its stores.

-| 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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