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"They say that they have found no evidence that eating GM food causes a health risk but what I think is a public scandal is that no-one has actually looked for the evidence, it is just assumed." - Michael Meacher (item 3)
"there has been no epidemiological monitoring of those consuming GM food, and that as far as post-marketing surveillance to detect potential human health effects of food...there is nothing yet available for GM foods in any country" - Science Review (item 2)
Daily Mail, 21 July 2003
summary: The Mail reports how Dr Carlo Leifert, professor of ecological agriculture at the University of Newcastle, has resigned from the Government's GM Science review "amid claims that the panel was hijacked by biotech supporters".
Soil association, PRESS STATEMENT
21 JULY 2003
The Soil Association today welcomes the fact that the Government's review of the science on GM crops has recognised the huge uncertainties, and major areas that have not been investigated, in connection with GM crops and food.
Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association, says: "BSE should have taught us that absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of safety, particularly when no long-term feeding trials have been done."
On possible health effects, the report admits that "there has been no epidemiological monitoring of those consuming GM food, and that as far as post-marketing surveillance to detect potential human health effects of food...there is nothing yet available for GM foods in any country".
In looking at the impact of the currently proposed GM crops, the report says that "the extent and possible severity of impacts on the environment are difficult to quantify and subject to much debate, and acknowledges that "an important uncertainty is how farmers will apply this technology in the field".
On the most crucial question for organic farmers, contamination of non-GM crops, the report says that while for some crops it may be possible to control gene flow "in other cases it may be difficult, if not impossible, to grow certain crops or use some existing farming practices". This confirms the result of research on the impact of GM crops on organic farmers carried out by the Soil Association in North America last year.
Finally, it contradicts the claim by GM companies that GM crops are being grown on a large scale in dozens of countries around the world. The report stresses that GM crops "occupy a relatively small proportion of the world's agricultural acreage" and that "Almost all (99%) of this was grown in only 4 countries". The report states that in fact 96% of all GM crops were grown in the USA, Argentina and Canada. Of GM crops grown worldwide 95% consist of just 3 crops, soybean, maize and cotton.
Critically, a follow-up report in the Autumn is called for to consider comments from the public and further scientific developments including the results of the GM farm scale evaluations providing they are available.
GM crops 'low risk' for humans
Environmental campaigners are deeply worried about GM crops
Genetically modified crops pose a "very low" risk to human health, according to an independent scientific review.
A panel of 25 experts [24 - 1 resigned] said they had found no case for ruling out all GM crops and that they were unlikely to lead to the creation of 'superweeds'.
But it raised doubts about the effects they could have on the wider environment - particularly wildlife.
Critics, including former environment minister Michael Meacher, argued that GM crops and foods had not been properly tested and it was too soon to say they were safe.
The report said "there have been no verifiable untoward toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects" on human health.
But it did not say they were entirely safe and said more research was needed, particularly as new varieties entered the market.
The GM Science Review Panel said: "It is clear that gaps in our knowledge and uncertainties will become more complex if the range of plants and traits introduced increases."
Questioning opponents' claims that GM crops could cross-pollinate with existing species to create 'superweeds', the report said they were "very unlikely to invade our countryside or become problematic plants".
'Case by case'
But the government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, who chaired the panel, said its findings could not be seen as an approval of all GM crops.
He said: "GM is not a homogenous technology on which scientists can make blanket assurances on safety.
"Applications of GM technology will have to be considered on a case by case basis."
Sir David warned against opposing the developments because of a lack of knowledge, arguing that "if we are paralysed by uncertainty, innovation and progress will be stifled".
He continued: "The very best science must be brought to bear on the important decisions that will need to be taken in the future.
"GM technology must not be considered in a vacuum but alongside conventional agricultural and food applications."
The review was described as a "public scandal" by former environment minister Michael Meacher.
He said GM food could have "very serious" consequences on health and that the tests were not rigorous enough.
Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They say that they have found no evidence that eating GM food causes a health risk but what I think is a public scandal is that no-one has actually looked for the evidence, it is just assumed."
Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said: "This committee was deliberately stacked with GM flag-wavers, but its so-called findings still come nowhere near justifying the risks.
"The report makes it clear there are areas of huge uncertainty."
The environmental group called on the government to "admit defeat and halt its headlong rush towards a US-style embrace of GM".