GENET archive


8-Misc: OECD conference on GE crops and food (3): Some voices in defense of GE

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TITLE:  Genetic foods could bring health benefits
SOURCE: Reuters, by Patricia Reaney
DATE:   February 28, 2000

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Genetic foods could bring health benefits

EDINBURGH - Genetically modified food could revolutionise Third World 
healthcare and even help prevent some cancers, a major international 
conference into the controversial new technology heard on Monday. The 
three-day meeting in Edinburgh is the first international forum 
bringing together scientists, regulators, environmentalists and 
consumer activists in the hopes of reaching a consensus on safety 
standards for GM food.

Activists have staged high-profile protests, trashing experimental GM 
crops and last week boarding a ship laden with GM soya, forcing it to 
abandon attempts to unload in Britain. But scientists said the 
technology could save lives.

"Edible vaccines and GM foods will cause a healthcare revolution in 
countries not as well off as my own," said Professor Marc Weksler of 
Cornell University in the U.S. GM vaccines and food could prevent 
measles, which kills one million children a year, he said. They could 
also help to overcome vitamin deficiencies linked to blindness, 
cancers and immune system functions and to eliminate allergies. "GM 
foods offer tremendous opportunities to prevent infectious disease, 
certain cancers and malnutrition," he added. Critics say the effects 
on people, animals and the environment should be studied before the 
technology is used in food and released into the environment.


Professor Hans Gunter Gassen, of Darmstadt Technical University in 
Germany, said scientists should tread carefully although he knew of 
no claims that GM products are unhealthy. "I am not saying this is 
dangerous. I'm saying we should be careful," the professor of 
biochemistry warned. Others were more enthusiastic.

"Nature has been doing genetic engineering since the beginning of 
life," said Professor Francisco Bolivar Zapata, the president of the 
National Academy of Sciences in Mexico. "I believe these tools are 
natural and extremely important for the production of healthy food," 
he added. GM technology is already used in 100 vaccines and 
pharmaceutical products.

"There is no doubt that when we get a vaccine for HIV/AIDS it is 
going to be genetically engineered. My claim is that genetically 
engineered rice will bring similar benefit," said Professor Gordon 
Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States.

Outside the conference, opponents of GM foods staged protests and 
accused U.S. regulators of ignoring health risks. "The Food and Drug 
Administration (FDA) has deliberately unleashed a host of potentially 
harmful foods onto American dinner tables in blatant violation of 
U.S. law," said Steven Druker, an American attorney who is suing the 
FDA to obtain mandatory testing and labeling of GM food.


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