GENTECH archive


brit.House of Lords committee endorses Genetic Manipulation

Quite coincidentally, the present Brit administration is planning to strip 
hereditary Lords of their vote in the House of Lords.
 That can't happen fast enough, of course, --- but there is still the
question of how a Second Legislative body can best function as the voice
of people.


Times (London)   January 21 1999
   Nigel Hawkes reports on clearest endorsement so far
   Reay: says that benefits include fewer pesticides
               Supercrop gains outweigh the risks, say peers 
   GENETICALLY modified crops have been given the approval of a House of
   Lords inquiry which says that the benefits far outweigh the risks.
   Agriculture, industry, consumers and even the environment stand to
   gain, the Select Committee on the European Communities concludes in a
   report published today. It is the clearest endorsement in Britain of a
   controversial technology that has made much quicker strides in the
   United States than in Europe.
   Monsanto, the leading company in the field, is delighted by the
   judgment of the committee, which set out to examine changes in the
   European directives governing genetically modified crops in the
   European Community.
   But Greenpeace accused the committee, chaired by Lord Reay, of being
   "the only group in our society that has fallen for Monsanto's
   advertising campaign". The environmental group renewed its call for a
   ban on use of the crops.
   Lord Reay listed the benefits as "higher crop yields, better
   nutritional content in foods, fewer herbicides and pesticides, and
   cheaper food for consumers. But like any new technology there are
   risks and it should only be applied when they can be assessed and
   The committee acknowledges that Britain's regulatory structure is
   "very rigorous" but believes that it can be improved by establishing a
   committee responsible for providing advice on overall policy. It could
   examine such issues as the long-term impact of genetically modified
   crops on the environment. The members should include consumer
   Lord Reay said that we "know more about novel foods than we do about
   staples". The potato, for example, would not pass the scrutiny of the
   Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes because it can in
   certain circumstances produce harmful poisons.
   He called for much quicker approval of genetically modified crops in
   Europe, where it typically takes two years compared with seven months
   in the United States.
   The committee supports the controversial "terminator" technology,
   which causes genetically modified crops to produce sterile seeds,
   preventing farmers from saving seed for use in the next season. In the
   developed world, provided that farmers' economic prosperity is not
   unduly affected, "we do not consider sterile crops to be a problematic
   Advantages include consistent seed quality and no risk of the creation
   of "superweeds" by the escape of pesticide-resistant genes. But in the
   developing world, "most farmers would view the prospect of having to
   buy seeds each year with grave concern".
   Equally controversial is the Lords' view that modified crops have much
   to offer organic farmers. This contradicts the view of the Soil
   Association that they are "the most serious threat ever to the organic
   farming movement". The Lords say that genetically modified crops
   require fewer pesticides and fertilisers.
   John Sauven, a Greenpeace campaigner, said that the report indicated
   how out of touch the House of Lords had become. "Genetically
   engineered food is inherently unpredictable and once such crops escape
   or are deliberately released into the environment and the food chain,
   they cannot be recalled.
   "In light of this, we should act in a precautionary way and halt the
   release of genetically modified organisms into the environment."

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