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3-Food: FoE-UK doubts food safety tests with GE maize

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TITLE:  UK environmentalists doubt rigour of GM crop tests
SOURCE: Reuters, by Elizabeth Piper
DATE:   November 6, 2000

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UK environmentalists doubt rigour of GM crop tests

LONDON - Environmentalist group Friends of the Earth on Friday accused the 
British government of having agreed to trials of genetically-modified (GM) 
maize which had not been rigorously tested by scientists. The group quoted 
scientists as saying that tests of the GM maize - Aventis's herbicide 
tolerant Chardon LL - on chickens were inadequate and failed to investigate 
a "suspicious" higher death rate among some birds during research. "Once 
again the... science of the biotech industry has been found sadly wanting," 
Tony Juniper, policy and campaigns director at Friends of the Earth, said 
in a statement.

"This shoddy study should never have been submitted to support the case for 
this GM maize to be granted a commercial licence. The fact that it was, and 
the government did nothing about it, is a scandal." Aventis was not 
immediately available for comment and Britain's farm ministry said it could 
not comment on individual incidents from the public hearing on GM crops 
where the allegations were aired. A ministry spokeswoman said officials 
would assess all the evidence presented at the hearing when it was 


Britain has given the go-ahead to a series of genetically-modified crop 
trials across the country and the government is considering putting the GM 
fodder maize on to the National Seed List. But by using a little known law, 
opponents have forced the government and Aventis into unprecedented public 
hearings over the addition of Chardon LL and have argued against the 
listing. The fresh accusations, led by scientists from the University of 
Bristol's department of clinical veterinary science at a public hearing 
about the trials, come swiftly after the farm ministry said test data may 
not meet minimum legal requirements.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) said on Tuesday it 
had learned from France that data from French trials on the seed were based 
on one year's data from accredited breeders' trials an one year's data from 
government-run trials. The relevant European directive affecting seed 
approval requires two years worth of official trials.

Friends of the Earth said the lack of high testing standards suggested that 
the government had yet to learn lessons from the BSE or "mad cow" crisis, 
which devastated the UK beef industry and has so far killed at least 85 
people. A recent report into BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) said 
officials from Britain's previous Conservative government had misled the 
public for years over the dangers of British beef and the risk of "mad cow" 
disease spreading to humans.


"When will we learn the lessons of BSE?" Juniper asked. "It's high time the 
cosy and unquestioning relationship between the biotech industry and 
government was ended. The well-being of the public, health and environment 
must be put above vested interest and profit. Aventis can start today by 
withdrawing this GM application." Britain's government has sought to 
reassure the public on the safety of GM crops, but opinion has turned 
against the gene-modified grains, with many shops and restaurants 
advertising that they do not sell GM foods.

The Bristol scientists, Steve Kestin and Toby Knowles, said the research 
was hampered by a failure to investigate the higher death rate of chickens 
fed the GM maize compared with those fed conventional maize. They also said 
there were too few replicates in the study - four compared with a minimum 
of 14 recommended by independent scientists. And there was no positive 
control in the research. "It's astonishing that this study has not been 
assessed and found wanting by the government, and that it's been left to 
Friends of the Earth to have it properly reviewed," Kestin said.


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