GENTECH archive


GM foods as safe as conventional counterparts!

Two articles in todays Irish Times!
May help clarifiy situation:

Irish Times 13/5/99
GM foods as safe as 
conventional counterparts 

By Kevin O'Sullivan, Environmental and Food Science Correspondent 
The "key message" is that GM foods on sale in Ireland are as safe as
their conventionally-grown counterparts, according to a Food Safety
Authority of Ireland report. 
A committee including leading public health specialists, nutrition
experts and plant biologists has found GM foods on the market do not
provide any additional nutritional benefit for consumers, though this
may change in time coinciding with massive increases globally in GM crop
While the report published yesterday finds that most available GM
products are essentially equivalent to their unmodified versions, it
concludes, nonetheless, that gene technology (which is used to generate
GM foods) "requires careful regulation to ensure there is no threat to
human or animal health". 
The group, which advises the FSAI on GM and novel foods seeking access
to EU markets, has endorsed the safety of available products -
essentially GM soya and maize, and their derivatives - but also suggests
where regulations need to be strengthened in the interests of consumer
The FSAI chief executive, Dr Patrick Wall, acknowledged there was
widespread concern about genetic modification technology. This was due
to a wide range of factors, including lack of knowledge and
misinformation, he said. 
Others had, for example, genuine environmental, "pro-organic" or ethical
concerns, which could not be considered within the remit of the report.
"These concerns have nothing to do with food safety. But irrespective of
their reasons, people have a right to know the origins of the food they
are buying." 
To reinforce this, the report says consumers have a right to "clear,
unambiguous labelling in order to make informed purchasing choices". The
FSAI is working with the State Laboratory to provide a facility to test
for GM foods which will include the ability to carry out spot checks in
retail outlets to enforce EU labelling regulations, its head of
operations, Mr Alan Reilly, confirmed. 
There may be "justifiable claims of associated benefits to human health"
with current GM crops in the reduced use of pesticides or herbicides, or
economic benefits such as reduced loss of food due to spoilage, the
report notes. 
Dr Colin Hill of UCC, chairman of the expert group which compiled the
Food Safety and GM Foods report, underlined its independence, in that
none of the scientists who worked on it was employed within the GM food
industry. While it entailed an evaluation of research data provided by
multinationals who had developed the products, it was possible to
determine the merits of the science. 
Genetic Concern accused the authority of "merely rubberstamping industry
research", and highlighted the absence of indep endent testing of GM
foods. The FSAI was not reflecting divided scientific opinion on the
issue, with many geneticists claiming not enough is known about the
genetic make-up of plants to unde rstand possible risks, its spokesman,
Mr Quentin Gargan, said. 
"The truth is that we currently have no way of assessing the effects of
genetically engineered foods. What the FSAI should do is seek funding
for independent epidemiological studies, instead of reassuring the
public with ill-informed reassurances," he said. 
The Green MEP, Ms Nuala Ahern, said the report was carefully worded and
"ignored much of the latest scientific evidence now emerging". It also
ran counter to what she claimed was FSAI acceptance at a recent meeting
with a Green Party delegation of a serious lack of pesticide testing on
The Food and Drink Federation, part of IBEC business group, welcomed the
finding that GM foods do not pose any health risk. 

GM foods report puts
reason back in debate 

Confusion and hysteria marking much of the GM food debate have been
countered by calm and reasoned assessment from the Food Safety Authority
of Ireland, writes Kevin O'Sullivan, Environmental and Food Science
The threads of the GM food debate in Europe have become so knotted that
at times they seem impossible to unravel. 
For many months the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has been one of the
few State agencies daring enough to attempt to unknot what are often
terribly conflicting messages. 
The bemused consumer has to decipher whether GM foods are going to save
the planet or destroy it. At one turn, they are told they will result in
multinationals cornering the global food market: at the next, they are
told the foods will be the saviour of mankind. 
On many occasions of late, the FSAI's chief executive, Dr Patrick Wall,
has attempted to clinically tease out the basis for objections, before
concentrating on the vital issue for his authority: whether GM foods are
a threat to health. 
The anti-GM food camp includes those who just do not like the sound of
GM foods, those in favour of organic foods, consumers who simply want to
be able to eat non-GM foods on ethical grounds, and the conspiracy
theorists who mistrust everything that comes from a multinational. 
Yesterday's report from the authority, bolstered by the findings of its
expert group on genetically modified organisms and novel foods, was a
culmination of that process. 
The report, particularly an associated leaflet for consumers, is
predictable (based on the body of current scientific opinion) yet
greatly helps the process of reintroducing reason into the debate; even
if its remit was only food safety grounds, and it could not take on
board the mainly genuine concerns about GM foods within other spheres. 
The chairman of the expert group, Dr Colin Hill, a UCC microbiologist,
identified the irony in that the power of gene technology is a primary
source of objections to GM foods even if its precision comes with
significant in-built safety. 
GM foods were "the most regulated foods on the surface of the planet"
and current forms available in the EU were safe. Yet the FSAI was not
endorsing or promoting such foods, he said, or even acknowledging there
were particular consumer benefits in GM foods on the market right now. 
The risks of damning the technology so much that the benefits of any
future "health-enhancing" GM foods have been underlined by Dr Wall.
There is a strong case for considering "the healthier chip" made from a
GM potato that absorbs less oil in cooking should it become available to
a country like ours with such high rates of heart disease. 
The report, clearly, does not endorse health concerns associated with GM
foods as articulated by Genetic Concern. The extent of expertise behind
it undermines a significant element of the campaign group's argument,
though Genetic Concern correctly highlights an absence of independent
study of GM foods effects. 
In fairness, Genetic Concern cannot be accused of peddling the kind of
misinformation and scaremongering noted by the authors. 
The (now acting) EU Environment Commissioner, Ms Ritt Bjerregaard, noted
that "when the debate concerning geneticallymodified organisms becomes
fierce, as at the moment, it is important to bear in mind that the rules
on the marketing of genetic products have been adopted by the
member-states themselves". 
That should read: governments, Ireland's included, have got us into this
fine mess, and must get us out of it in the best interests of their
consumers; not to mention in the EU's economic interests (to maintain
vital trade links with the US) and to retain a significant global
presence in the field of biotechnology. Providing widely available
user-friendly and nonalarmist information would be an indicator of new
Prof Mike Gibney of Trinity College, a member of the FSAI's expert
group, was asked yesterday to predict the immediate future for GM foods,
especially given his membership of key EU food committees. It was likely
to be one of "continued mayhem", he said, with politicians making
convenient decisions coming up to election time. 
He did not know what scientists could do amid the hysteria that
stretches across much of Europe other than report their considered
opinions, as they had done through the FSAI. 
But he stressed that the scientific process was much like the judicial
process, in that it got it right most of the time. It remains to be seen
if this is sufficiently reassuring for a Europe showing signs that the
more it knows about GM foods the less convinced it is of their merits.