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3-Food: Irish debate on GM food security



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TITLE:  Scientist rallies behind Genetic Concern in build-up to
        GM debate
SOURCE: Irish Times
DATE:   May 17, 1999

----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------


Scientist rallies behind Genetic Concern in build-up to GM debate

One of the most prominent scientists against genetically-modified
foods is to provide his expertise to the Irish campaign group,
Genetic Concern, in the run-up to the second of a series of
national debates on GM food policy. Prof Joe Cummins, of the
University of Western Ontario, who is against GM foods both on
environmental and human health grounds, is also to address a
number of public meetings in Ireland prior to the debate staged
by the Minister for the Environment, Mr Dempsey, on June 3rd.
Irish policy on the testing and development of GM crops is to be
finalised after an independent chairing panel reports on the
debates. Prof Cummins is one of 22 widely-published scientists
who backed the controversial research on GM potatoes by Dr Arpad
Pusztai which suggested they could damage the immune systems of
rats.

The professor of genetics is an authority on "viral promoters",
tiny components which trigger genetic activity and are used to
make genetically- modified organisms (GMOs), and in turn GM
crops. He has grave reservations about "Bt toxin" - used as
insecticide in some crops. It is generated by the bacillus
thuringiensis bacterium, and the gene triggering its production
has been incorporated into GM maize and corn grown mainly in the
US. Prof Cummins's intervention comes as it was reported that the
British Medical Association is to tell the British government too
little is known about the long-term effects of eating GM food to
guarantee its safety. The BMA position, to be outlined in a
report to be published tomorrow, concludes GM crops are a
potential threat to human health and the environment, according
to the In- dependent on Sunday. This contrasts with the verdict
of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland report, which found
current GM foods on the market were not a risk to human health.

Meanwhile, Genetic Concern has questioned the FSAI's independence
as all it had done in relation to GM foods, it claimed, was
"evaluate the research carried out by the industry itself". There
had been little or no independent testing of GM foods, while the
document issued by the FSAI failed to reflect the extent of
division among scientists on their safety, it added.

A Genetic Concern spokesman, Mr Quentin Gargan, said: "This
technology is being driven by large multinationals who carry out
their own research. What the FSAI subcommittee has done is take
that research and approve it." GM-crop trials were little more
than efficacy tests, he said. Accordingly, if one did not look in
the right place for potential problems, one was unlikely to find
them. In such circumstances, he questioned how long it would be
before there would be "the same embarrassing U-turn on genetic
engineering as we had with BSE, DDT and many other instances
where science failed to detect potential problems".

Genetic Concern added that concerns about the vetting of GM food
contained in the main FSAI report were not articulated in a
leaflet aimed at consumers. The FSAI expert group had noted in
its report that "while protein sequence databases homology data
is useful for assessing allergenicity and toxicity potential,
there is still a need for notifiers (developers of GMOs) to carry
out toxicological and allergenicity testing on animals". Mr
Gargan added: "Thalidomide has proven that animal testing is
inadequate and presents unnecessary cruelty at a time when public
opinion is seeking cruelty-free alternatives. Testing must be
carried out on humans, as happens with medicines."





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