SnowBall archive


GE - Important evidence on inadequate GM food safety testing

For anyone that missed it, below is a particularly important quotation from
Professor James, Director of the Rowett Research Institute where Professor
carried out his highly publicised research on GM potatoes.

The statement was included in Professor James's written evidence submitted
to the Science and Technology Select Committee at the House of Commons, who
have been carrying out a preliminary inquiry into the Pusztai GM potatoes
Professor James's comments were reported by John von Radowitz, Science
Correspondent, PA News, 8 March 1999.

Professor James and Professor Pusztai gave
different accounts of the events concerning the controversy surrounding
Professor Pusztai's research.  However, importantly they both agree
that better ways of testing the safety of GM foods are needed.  According to
Professor James's written evidence:
"There is... a need to develop more effective and appropriate screening
methods to alert companies and government agencies to the unexpected
consequences of the often random insertion of genetic traits into plants."

Dr Pusztai also criticised the Advisory Committee on Novel Food Processes,
which advises the Government on GM foods. He accepted that the experts did a
"difficult job" but said they did not have enough practical experience.

"I would certainly like to have more input by actual practising scientists
rather than those who are perhaps doing more administrative science," he
told the Committee according to the PA News report.

In a further report by PA News on 9 March Professor James was also
quoted as saying in his written evidence that : "...more stringent testing
systems are needed than those which appear to be acceptable in the US".

Professor James concludes, while criticising Dr Pusztai's experiments, that
his "concerns about the need for devising new safety tests ... are, in our
view, valid".

In a devastating indictment of the current system, Prof James highlights
(according to PA News):

- Key scientists on official advisory committees are effectively doing the
job "in their spare time"

- A "heavy involvement" of industrial companies in the world arbiter on the
health implications of new technologies, the Codex Alimentarius

- The low priority given to public health by the World Trade Organisation,
which interprets the rulings of the Codex

- The need to develop "new screening strategies" in Britain and "the need,
clearly expressed within Europe, to have greater assurances on the safety of
genetically modified organisms"

- The current system "does not at present respond well" to rapid scientific
developments like GM foods, and there is a need to "upgrade and extend the
safety evaluation processes"

- Failings by the American Food and Drug Administrations to maintain tough
enough safety standards. "Practices currently considered acceptable and
promoted by the FDA are not rigorous enough for future use".

According to PA News in its 9 March report Dr Pusztai also told the MPs
there was a "compelling case" for an "over-arching body to advise on and
oversee genetically modified food". He said the current Government advisory
committees on new scientific developments were likely to be "severely
tested" in verifying the safety of GM foods as more and more were brought to
market. They were also very limited in commissioning their own research,
meaning their judgements were "mainly based on information received from the
companies" developing the new foods.