GE - Scientists get the pip over GM tomatoes
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Yahoo! News The Independent headlines
Saturday February 20, 12:40 PM
Scientists get the pip over GM tomatoes
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
It could turn out to be the ultimate GM nightmare for a British biotechnology
company, whose employees were pictured on the front of a national newspaper
eating genetically modified tomatoes.
The photograph in The Daily Telegraph of Dr Nigel Poole and colleagues from
Zeneca Plant Science showed the scientists munching their way through whole
tomatoes, seeds included. Now the company is to be reported to the
health and safety watchdog for possible breach of the regulations governing
escape of GM organisms into the environment.
Officials fear that the seeds of the GM tomatoes could have passed straight
through the digestive systems of the Zeneca staff and germinated in a sewage
farm somewhere in deepest Berkshire.
Professor John Beringer, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the
Environment, said yesterday that he has no option but to report Zeneca to the
Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is responsible for prosecutions under
the regulations governing the containment of GM plants and animals.
"If they were knowingly eating the tomatoes including the seeds then they are
probably bringing about a release to the environment," Professor Beringer
"My colleagues are uncertain whether it would be examined as a breach of the
containment regulations, or whether it would be deemed a deliberate release.
It's probably a breach of containment."
Dr Poole told the newspaper that over the past 10 years about 40 staff at
Zeneca have eaten fresh GM tomatoes, which have not been approved for sale in
Britain except in a tomato puree where the seeds are destroyed in the process.
His wife and two grown-up children have also been willing guinea pigs. "We did
it to show confidence in our research," he said.
When asked whether the caption to the photograph was correct in describing the
team eating GM tomatoes, Dr Poole said they were in fact ordinary tomatoes
because there were no ripe GM versions around at the time. However, he
confirmed that he and his colleagues have eaten GM tomatoes and their seeds
many years, the last time just before Christmas.
A gene in Zeneca's GM tomato has been altered to give it a longer shelf life,
allowing it to be picked when it is ripe rather than green.
The research came out of Nottingham University in the Eighties and was
developed into a commercial product by ICI Seeds - which later became Zeneca -
led by Simon Best, business development manager.
Mr Best was asked in 1989 whether the GM tomatoes tasted nice. He replied that
eating them was not allowed: "If people swallowed the tomato seeds the plants
could end up growing in a sewage farm somewhere and this would be an
unauthorised release of a genetically engineered organism."
There is more on the GM food debate elsewhere in Home News