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Pharmaceutical products polluted by GM items



INDEPENDENT (London) January 3, 1999



By Mark Rowe

BRITAIN'S largest high street chemist, Boots, has admitted that
genetically modified products may be used in some of its own-brand
medicines. It has also warned that more products in the future could
contain genetically modified components.

Many medicinal products contain ingredients such as thickening agents
which are derived from cotton, maize or wheat - plants chosen for genetic
modification by big food and chemical companies.

Boots has said it would be "concerned" if it was unable to identify at
source whether genetically modified (GM) maize or wheat was being used. It
warned that if European suppliers mix up GM and non-GM crops, as happens
in the US, then it will become impossible to know whether or not GM
elements are present in its products.

Boots admits that may already apply to its own brand of liquid medicines,
which use as a thickening agent an acid derived from cellulose, itself
derived from cotton made in the US. "Cotton, like maize, can be sourced
from the US and as such there is the possibility that a small quantity of
a GM crop may sometimes be included," a spokeswoman said.

The announcement comes amid rising public concern at the widespread use of
GM wheat, soya and maize in food products before they have been approved
for commercial growth in the UK. English Nature, the Government's advisory
body on environmental matters, has called for a moratorium on the growth
of such crops while trials take place to monitor their effect on the food
chain.

Boots' admission has been greeted with dismay by environmental groups such
as Friends of the Earth, which is calling for a three-year moratorium on
GM food sales until the Government conducts research into the risks. "We
would be disappointed in Boots because it is doing it either in ignorance
of public concerns or with total contempt," said Adrian Bebb, FoE food
campaigner.

Boots, however, said it was sensitive to public worries over GM food.
"We're concerned but we probably won't change the formulas for our
products next year," said a spokeswoman. "In five years' time nobody is
going to be able to give a guarantee over whether the product is GM or not
because the US is taking over the market."

Monsanto, the US biotechnology giant, has been marketing GM products
worldwide. A secret report for Monsanto, leaked to Greenpeace last month,
quoted senior executives from Waitrose, Tesco and Safeway expressing anger
at the high-handed way in which, they say, Monsanto brought GM food into
Europe by mixing bioengineered soya products with normal ones.

Other concerns centre on starch, which is used for some Boots medical
products. Starch is made from maize, which can be genetically modified,
along with wheat and soya, to make it resistant to herbicides. Boots said
it was certain its brand of paracetamol tablets did not contain GM starch.
Boots is testing its food products for GM components and is working
closely with suppliers to trace the origin of every ingredient.

Under European Union legislation, the majority of products containing GM
ingredients will not be labelled since only those goods that have
genetically-altered DNA in their end-product have to be labelled. The
exemptions include any food that contains soya oil or soya derivatives
such as lecithin. Starch, since it is an additive, does not need to be
labelled if it has been genetically modified.

According to FoE, more than 15 per cent of all soya imported from the US
is genetically modified and more than 60 per cent of processed foods
contain soya. It also believes that up to 95 per cent of all foods that
have used GM products in their preparation escape any need for labelling.

Concern has been mounting over the health risks of GM foods. Although GM
soya and maize have been approved for safety in the US and Canada, FoE
said there had been little independent testing of the implications of
eating such foods. "We're concerned that if you cut and splice DNA there's
a chance of something going wrong," said Mr Bebb.

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