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7-Misc: What's about GM cloths?

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SOURCE: The Times (London), by Robin Young
DATE:   July 19, 1999

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GM pants and socks next on protesters' list

Are your pants politically correct and environmentally
acceptable? That is the question that clothing retailers and
department stores are going to dread in coming weeks as attention
turns from genetically modified foods to genetically modified
underwear. To date, the fury of the public debate about
genetically modified crops has concentrated on maize and soya,
ingredients used in almost two thirds of manufactured foods.

Supermarkets have been falling over themselves to clear their
own-brand foodstuffs of genetically modified ingredients. Now
they are going to have to scrutinise the clothing racks too. For
there is a third genetically modified crop which, in the view of
the environmentalists campaigning against the practice, is just
as important as maize and soya. That crop is cotton and in
America, which is the world's biggest exporter of cotton,
genetically modified cotton forms almost half this year's crop.
As was the case with soya and maize, the Americans have not
segregated the crops from genetically modified cottonfields and
those from conventional plants.

Marks & Spencer, which boasts that it has banned GM ingredients
from its St Michael brand foods, agrees that it has yet to tackle
the problem of underpants, socks and chinos. Bob Underwood, the
company's cotton specialist, says: "The trouble is that we cannot
test for GM cotton. There is absolutely no way that we can tell
whether cotton fibre comes from a genetically modified plant or
not." Friends of the Earth, a leading campaigner against genetic
modification, has written to clothing companies asking if they
are prepared to ban genetically modified cotton from their
stores. No such undertakings have been forthcoming yet. Pete
Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said yesterday: "This issue does
not stop at food safety. What the public is worried about is the
effect that GM crops may have on the environment, on biodiversity
and on farmers in the Third World."

The Consumers' Association said: "Leading retailers have reacted
positively to consumer concern about genetically modified food,
either by banning them or insisting that they are labelled. The
next step should be that clothes made from GM crops should be
labelled too." The GM cotton on the market, like the soya and
maize, is genetically engineered by the agro-chemical concern
Monsanto to be resistant to its Roundup weedkiller.

Other products in development are cotton that would be
genetically modified for resistance to pests and genetically
modified seed that would produce coloured cotton yielding blue,
brown and grey threads. Boots, the high street chemist, has
agreed that genetically modified products may be used in some of
its own-brand medicines because many medicinal products contain
ingredients derived from cotton. Some liquid medicines, for
example, use as thickening agent an acid derived from cellulose,
which itself comes from cotton grown in the United States.

The inability to guarantee that such items as cotton shirts,
socks, underwear, handkerchiefs and pyjamas are GM free is shared
by all clothing retailers in Britain. Cotton is traded as a
commodity to manufacturers and the US, selling unsorted cotton of
which almost half is genetically modified, is an important
supplier to all markets.

Marks & Spencer website
Sainsbury's website
Friends of the Earth website

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