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3-Food: British Medical Association sounds alarm on GM food

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TITLE:  Brit Doctors' Association (BMA) sounds alarm on GM food
SOURCE: Sunday Independent, UK, by Marie Woolf
DATE:   May 16, 1999

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Brit Doctors' Association (BMA) sounds alarm on GM food

Doctors will tell the Government this week that too little is
known about the long-term risks of eating genetically modified
food to guarantee its safety. They will warn that GM crops pose a
potential threat to human health and the environment. The British
Medical Association, which represents 115,000 doctors, will say
the crops should not be grown commercially in Britain until more
trials are carried out, arguing that the benefits must be clearly
shown before biotechnology companies are allowed to go ahead. The
BMA report 'The Impact of Genetic Modification on Agriculture,
Food and Health' marks the first official opinion by a British
medical body on GM crops. It will call for more testing by
independent scientists and for the results to be freely available
to the public. The report, to be published on Tuesday, will say
detailed research is needed into possible toxicity of GM food and
whether eating it could lead to the development of new allergies
and antibiotic resistance in humans.

It will reinforce pressure for a government-backed moratorium on
the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain. The doctors will
also cast doubt on the use of data from the United States, where
commercial GM crops are already grown, to predict consequences
for Britain. The threat of cross-pollination of GM plants could
be greater here because the country is smaller and fields are
closer together, the report says. The findings of the BMA's board
of science and education will stress that consumers have a right
to clear labelling. Its report will call for more comprehensive
labelling than the Government has proposed. The most serious
reservations concern lack of knowledge about health implications.
The doctors will express doubts about using antibiotic resistance
marker genes in GM plants, a common practice. They will call for
more rigorous investigations of the dangers of antibiotic
resistance and whether that could increase vulnerability to
diseases such as meningitis.

Two weeks ago, the Independent on Sunday revealed that the Chief
Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, and the Government's Chief
Scientific Adviser, Sir Robert May, had recommended that
ministers set up a panel to see if eating GM food could cause
birth defects, the creation of new cancers and damage to the
immune system. But their conclusions, which have been read by
members of the ministerial committee on genetic engineering,
known as MISC6, are being amended by the Government before the
report is published. This has infuriated MPs, who will this week
urge Jack Cunningham, Cabinet Office Minister, to publish the
report in its original form. They accuse ministers of a cover-up.
"The original advice must not be sanitised, it must be published
without changes immediately," said Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat
environment spokesman. Ministers fear the report could raise
doubts about the Government's handling of the safety issue. A
cabinet document, seen by the Independent on Sunday, warned as
long ago as February that its conclusions on the effects of GM
foods on human health could be serious.

"At its last meeting, MISC6 requested a paper by the CMO/CSA
[Chief Medical Officer/Chief Scientific Adviser] on human health
implications of GM foods. Will we publish this when it is ready
(c April) and use it as a means to explain that GM foods on the
market are safe?," the memo asks. The paper, marked "Restricted -
Policy", warns: "What if it shows up any doubts? What can we do?
We will be pressured to ban them immediately. What if it says
that we need evidence of long term effects? This will look like
we are not sure about their safety - we do not monitor
consumption of other foods." 


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