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3-Food: US reacts promptly on British doctor's report on GM food

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TITLE:  British report: label gene-modified food
Call by U.K. doctors group adds to trade tensions with U.S.,
brings strong reaction on Hill
SOURCE: Washington Post, by Rick Weiss
DATE:   May 18, 1999

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Dear GENET-news readers,
a copy of the introduction and recommendations of "The Impact of
Genetic Modification on Agriculture, Food and Health" is
available on the BMA web site at

*****     *****

British Report: Label Gene-Modified Food
Call by U.K. Doctors Group Adds to Trade Tensions With U.S.,
Brings Strong Reaction on Hill

Britain's premier medical association yesterday joined the
European fracas over genetically engineered foods by saying that
foods harboring new genes should be labeled as such so consumers
can choose to avoid them until they're proven safe. In a strongly
worded report that immediately increased trade tensions with the
United States, the British Medical Association also called for
gene-altered crops to be processed separately from conventional
crops, rather than mixed together as is done today in the United
States, so that any health effects that may eventually turn up
will be traceable to the products that caused them. If growers in
the United States or other countries continue to refuse to
segregate gene-modified products, the association concluded, then
Britain should consider banning imports of those foods.

The recommendations prompted a quick negative reaction on Capitol
Hill, where congressional leaders have been growing increasingly
irritated with Europe's resistance to agricultural biotechnology,
a lucrative field dominated by the United States. Just four days
ago a bipartisan group of 36 senators sent a letter to President
Clinton urging him to stand up for American agricultural
biotechnology at the World Trade Organization and other
international forums, including the upcoming G8 summit, to avoid
"a looming trade conflict" with Europe. Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R
Mo.), who with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) wrote and circulated the
letter, fumed yesterday when he learned of the British report.
"It is characteristic of the European Union to hide behind
studies such as this in order to maintain its protectionist trade
policies," said Ashcroft, whose home state houses Monsanto Co.,
the global leader in agricultural biotechnology. "Studies such as
this . . . demonstrate with absolute clarity why progress must
begin with action by the president to address biotech trade at
the head-of-state level at the upcoming G8 summit," Ashcroft

The 119,000-member British Medical Association represents more
than 80 percent of Britain's doctors. It has weighed in before on
the issue of genetically engineered crops and foods, but
yesterday's report--based on an analysis of current scientific
knowledge--contains the strongest warnings yet as to what remains
unknown about their environmental and health effects. The crops
contain genes from bacteria and other organisms to make them
resistant to weed-killing chemicals and insects. They are being
grown on millions of acres in the United States, where regulatory
agencies have deemed them safe, but they remain heavily
restricted in Europe, where public acceptance has been low.
Concerns about genetically engineered corn have already halted
virtually all corn exports from the United States to Europe,
costing U.S. farmers about $200 million a year. Exports of
American engineered soy worth additional hundreds of millions of
dollars are so far being accepted by Europe.

The British report does not assert that engineered foods are
dangerous. But it counsels that without proof of safety, the wise
course is to proceed more slowly. For example, the new report
says, no one knows yet whether the antibiotic resistance genes
used to create engineered crops might get passed to bacteria in
people's internal organs, leading to the growth of drug-resistant
pathogens. Just in case, the group calls upon companies to
abandon use of those genes. That conservative approach contrasts
sharply with the Food and Drug Administration's, which has
allowed companies to use such genes after a review of the
scientific literature concluded that it was unlikely--albeit not
impossible--for such problematic gene transfers to occur.

The FDA and other U.S. agencies have made it their policy not to
regulate engineered crops or foods differently than
conventionally bred products. "We do not have any information
that the use of recombinant DNA techniques creates a class of
products different in quality or safety," said Jim Maryanski, the
FDA's biotechnology coordinator. Jay Byrne, a spokesman for
Monsanto, said labeling of engineered foods only makes sense if
it's "science-based and provides meaningful information." He said
segregation of engineered products from harvest to the table
would create "an arbitrary two-tier system that would only serve
to increase food costs for consumers."


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-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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-| Germany
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