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INDEPENDENT (London) November 30, 1998
All the facts you need to avoid heartache: Genetically Modified Food
At least 60 per cent of processed foods may contain soya.
15 per cent of soya is genetically modified.
MPs in the House of Commons have banned the use of GM food in their
A Mori survey revealed that 61 per cent of Britons regard GM food as
unacceptable and 77 per cent support a ban on the commercial growing of GM
crops until more is known about health risks and environmental impact.
All new Iceland and Asda own-label products do not contain GM ingredients.
The Vegetarian Society has banned the use of GM ingredients from products
bearing the society's V approved "by the Vegetarian Society" symbol.
Tesco is the first British retailer to label all GM ingredients in its
own-brand products, including soya oil and lecithin, which do not need
labelling under European Union rules.
THE GOOD NEWS
Genetic engineering alters the DNA of crops by transferring genes from one
organism to another. By genetic engineering food, scientists have extended
the shelf life of foods and created crops that are resistant to pesticides
and herbicides. For example, fish have a genetic characteristic that helps
them survive in very cold water. That gene can now be inserted into a
tomato to make it frost-resistant, meaning bigger and better tomato
THE BAD NEWS
No one is sure about the health effects of eating GM food but there are
fears about its safety and its affect on the environment. Though
genetically modifying food can eliminate weaknesses in a crop, sometimes
it can introduce weaknesses into the food chain too.
Seeds genetically engineered to kill bad pests may kill the good pests
too, eg: potatoes which were engineered to kill aphids also killed
beneficial ladybirds. If GM crops fail, then they fail in a spectacular
way and they could threaten the entire food chain.
In the US, thousands of hectares of Monsanto's cotton seeds failed in 1997
and 1 million acres of GM cotton which was supposed to be resistant to
bollworm was destroyed - by bollworm in 1996.
In Nebraska, cattle farmers faced a crisis when their cows stopped grazing
because their corn fields had been growing GM corn and they didn't like
the taste. Non GM crops cannot be prevented from cross-pollinating with GM
crops, meaning that farmers who don't agree with GM have no way of
preventing their crops being contaminated.
Last year Guy Watson, an organic farmer from Devon, took the Government to
court to stop trials of GM maize crops which were being grown next to his
organic sweetcorn. Though the judiciary ruled that the Government acted
unlawfully in allowing the trials, they refused to rule that the GM trials
should be halted. If the suspected health risks associated with GM are
proven, even people who choose to buy organic may unsuspectingly be eating
GM food. There is also the risk that the genes will transfer to soil
bacteria and then to insects, birds, animals and water.
Because GM food has only been around for three years it is difficult to
predict its impact, but the recent experience of BSE shows how a
relatively small change in food production can have a devastating impact
on safety which may take years to show up. Austria and Luxembourg are
trying to stop imports of genetically-engineered maize which contains an
antibiotic resistance gene. Both countries fear that eating the maize will
lead to more resistance to antibiotics in humans and animals. In the US a
disease called EMS was eventually linked to a food supplement derived from
genetically-modified bacteria. But, 36 people had dead and 1,500 were
Consumers should be allowed to choose whether they want to eat GM food but
manufacturers can escape labelling regulations by mixing conventional and
GM ingredients. Though 60 per cent of processed food contains soya,
because US food producers mix GM soya with regular soya, they don't have
to say it's genetically modified on the label. GM soya is found in the
following products but it won't be listed on the label
- Vegetable protein, hydrolysed vegetable protein and protein isolate
which are found in sausages, gravy powder, soups, coffee creamers, frozen
desserts, stock-cubes, bacon and ham brine.
- Lecithin, an emulsifying agent used to make chocolate, margarine, bread,
cakes and biscuits.
- Vegetable oil, vegetable fat, hydrogenated vegetable oils are found in
many foods including cakes, biscuits, crisps, fast food.
- Soya flour, soya flakes, soya milks, soy baby milk and tofu should be
properly labelled as should. textured vegetable protein which is found in
meat products, meat substitutes and vegetarian dishes.
IF YOU ARE CONCERNED
- Contact your local MP to ask why GM foods are being allowed on to the
market without comprehensive testing or proper food labelling.
- Ring the Monsanto Soya Information Centre 0345-023288 to ask them why
they refuse to segregate their soybeans meaning potential contamination of
60 per cent of the foods we buy.
- Write to the manager of your local supermarket and ask them what they
intend to do about labelling all genetically engineered foods and
- Study food labels carefully and buy organic if you can afford it.
- Avoid soya-based foods especially soya baby milk.
Genetics Forum - 0171-638 0606. The Food Commission - 0171-837 2250. The
Soil Association - 0117-914 2449. The Consumers Association-0171-830 6000
Recommended reading: 'Women Unlimited: The Directory for Life', published
by Penguin at #9.99
** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest
in receiving the included information for research and educational