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TITLE:  Crop trials must stop, say doctors
SOURCE: The Scotsman, UK, by David Scott
        http://www.thescotsman.co.uk/index.cfm?id=1284692002
DATE:   Nov 19, 2002

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


Crop trials must stop, say doctors

SENIOR doctors have demanded an immediate halt to genetically modified crop 
trials in a move that piles pressure on the Scottish Executive to 
reconsider its controversial backing for the programme.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that insufficient care is 
being taken to protect public health and that there has been a lack of 
public consultation about crop trials despite the steady increase in the 
number of them.

The demand that there should be a moratorium on any further planting of GM 
crops on a commercial basis is made in a submission to the Scottish 
parliamentŐs health committee.

The BMAŐs warning about the dangers of continuing with trials will be seen 
by anti-GM crop campaigners as giving powerful weight to their argument 
that the issue must now be reconsidered by Ross Finnie, the environment 
minister.

Robin Harper, the Scottish Green Party MSP, said last night: "I am 
delighted that the BMA have been prepared to take the same line that we 
have been pursuing for some time. It is a very welcome position and one 
that must lead to the trials being halted."

The BMA originally set out its case against the further planting of 
commercially produced GM crops in 1999, but its latest attack is made with 
the benefit of more information. It will be made tomorrow to the health 
committee, which is conducting an inquiry into GM crops.

The BMA points out that the number of crop trials has increased steadily, 
without public consultation, since their introduction in the early 1990s. 
Trials are being held at 178 sites in the UK, 17 are in Scotland.

The BMA was asked by the health committee if it believed the Executive 
should prevent GM crop trials from continuing on the grounds that the 
policy is against "the precautionary principle to allow them to continue". 
The BMA responded: "Yes. As with scientific matters, it can be difficult 
and timeconsuming to demonstrate safety to an acceptable standard. Safety 
is a relative matter and is generally based on the results of a robust and 
thorough search for possible harm.

"There has not yet been a robust and thorough search into the potentially 
harmful effects of GM foodstuffs on human health. On the basis of the 
precautionary principle, farm-scale trials should not be allowed to 
continue."

The BMA, which will be represented at the committee hearing by Dr Charles 
Saunders, a specialist in public health issues, will point out to the MSPs 
that, following public health disasters such as BSE and foot and mouth 
disease, public confidence in the scientific communityŐs approach to 
agriculture has been undermined.

It adds: "Scientists, farmers and politicians need to re-establish public 
trust. Further research is required into the health and environmental 
effects of GMOs before they can be permitted to be freely cultivated.

"This may be executed in such a way as not to expose the population to 
possibly irreversible environmental risk, which may, in turn, have as yet 
unquantified public health implications."

The BMA refers in its document to worries about the issue of antibiotic 
resistance. Antibiotic resistance "markers" help identify GM plants and 
there is evidence that these genes may be transferred to non-GM plants and 
"possibly into pathogenic organisms causing human disease", it warns.

Underlining the responsibility of the parliament and the Executive to 
protect the nationŐs health, the BMA says it is disappointed that, to date, 
the Executive has decided not to include health monitoring of local 
populations as part of the farm-scale evaluation programme.

In March 2000, four farms, three in Aberdeenshire and one near Munlochy in 
the Black Isle, were given the go-ahead to plant GM winter oilseed rape. 
Almost immediately a protest group sprung up in the Black Isle and a 24-
hour vigil was established near farmer Jamie GrantŐs land.

Since then 17 sites in Scotland have been involved in the three-year 
research programme.

Some protesters have been more direct and the GM crops have been damaged by 
activists in Munlochy and Fife. In all 28 people have been charged since 
the trials were approved and one man, Donnie MacLeod, an organic farmer 
from Ardersier, spent ten days in jail for refusing to identify others 
taking part in a protest.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said the crop experiments currently taking 
place were final trials under a two-year evaluation scheme. The Executive 
had already adopted the "precautionary" approach as Mr Finnie had allowed 
the trials go ahead only after scientific evidence suggested there was no 
threat to health or the environment.

 

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