Today in AgBioView: March 10, 2004
* Scientists welcome Government announcement on GM Crops
* Britain OKs Genetically Modified Corn
* UK's thumbs-up to GM maize
* Doctors 100% behind GM decision
* GM Foods 'Unlikely to Harm Health'
* UK doctors alter tack to back GMs
* British approval of GM maize prompts Green fury
Scientists welcome Government announcement on GM Crops
- The Royal Institution, March 9, 2004
Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive BBSRC, said:
"GM technology has great potential benefits for both the public and producers. It is right that we assess each application of this technology case-by-case based on the scientific evidence while taking into consideration the understandable concerns regarding the use of this relatively new technology. "
Professor Ian Crute, Director Rothamsted Research, said:
"I applaud the government's decision to allow commercial cultivation of herbicide tolerant (HT) GM fodder maize in the UK. HT varieties provide the prospect of reduced economic inputs for hard-pressed farmers striving to compete and sound scientific studies have also demonstrated the potential for some environmental benefit from the way these varieties are likely to be managed. It is particularly heartening to the scientific community in this country that the government has clearly signalled its resolve to act on the basis of factual argument and a rational assessemnt of risk rather than emotive rhetoric and opinion unsupported by evidence."
Professor Chris Lamb, Director of the John Innes Centre Norwich, said:
"I warmly welcome the Government's decision today, not least because they have chosen to make policy based on scientific evidence, rather than campaigning rhetoric. The lesson we must all learn from GM is that if society is to reap the benefits that plant science can bring, we need long-term, visionary policy-making that identifies what it is that society requires from agriculture and new plant-based industries. Scientific knowledge and scientific method can then be applied to help meet those objectives".
Dr Brian Johnson, English Nature's Biotechnology adviser, said:
"It is important that any impacts on wildlife of growing GM crops continue to be scientifically assessed crop by crop. English Nature does not approve or disapprove of the commercialisation of this specific GM maize but the evidence from the field scale trials showed that growing it is better for biodiversity than growing maize using conventional methods. We shall continue to supply independent scientific advice to the Government on impacts on biodiversity of all GM crops and their management systems."
Professor Jules Pretty, Deputy Chair of ACRE, and chaired the ACRE deliberations and advice on the FSEs, said:
"This decision by government correctly shows that GM crops should be treated on a case by case basis. Any generalisations suggesting that all GMs are good or all are bad are scientifically incorrect. This particular GM, herbicide-tolerant maize, is better for wildlife than its conventional equivalents, and given no other concerns risks to consumers or the environment, the scientific community has concluded that it should be made available to farmers."
Professor John Lawton, Chief Executive of NERC, said:
"We at the Natural Environment Research Council are very pleased that the debate on the environmental consequences of growing GM crops continues to be informed by good science."
Professor Chris Pollock, Chairman of ACRE, said:
"I am, of course, delighted that the secretary of State has accepted ACRE's advice, and that she remains committed to a case-by-case, evidence-based regulatory system linked to the maintenance of consumer choice. I am equally pleased that she has recognised so explicitly the wider issues that the farm-scale evaluations raised about the close relationship between the farmed and natural environment in the UK and the need to manage this relationship across the whole of UK agriculture."
Dr Sandy Thomas, Director Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said:
"The Council welcomes the Government's decision to assess GM crops on a case-by-case basis. The possible costs, benefits and risks must be considered for each new crop. The Council believes that there is an ethical obligation to explore the potential of GM crops responsibly. It is particularly important not to neglect the perspective of developing countries when discussing GM technology. This important dimension was recognised in the GM nation? debate."
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Britain OKs Genetically Modified Corn
- Associated Press, Mar. 09, 2004, By Ed Johnson
LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair's government on Tuesday conditionally approved the commercial cultivation of a type of genetically modified corn.
Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said that after three-year long trials the government approved - in principle - the growing of the herbicide-tolerant corn.
Reaction was likely to be harsh in Britain, where opinion polls have found a majority of the public opposed to such crops - labeled "Frankenstein foods" by some tabloid newspapers.
While genetically modified crops are widely grown and consumed in the United States, opposition is fierce in Europe. Last year, the European Union lifted a 1998 ban on genetically modified crops but enacted strict labeling and traceability rules for products with genetically modified ingredients.
Washington has said the laws, which take effect in April, are still an unfair trade barrier to biotech product imports.
Beckett said the maize crop, produced by Cropscience, the British arm of German biotech company Bayer, probably would not be grown commercially in Britain until spring next year at the earliest.
Beckett added that the government opposed the commercial cultivation of varieties of GM beet and oilseed rape, which fared badly in the trials.
Licenses to grow the genetically modified corn would expire in October 2006, Beckett said. Those holding a license to grow the corn would have to carry out scientific analysis during cultivation to renew planting rights.
Beckett said that the crop must be grown under the same conditions as the trials. She also said the commercial growers must continue to "carry out further scientific analysis to monitor changes in herbicide use on conventional maize (corn)."
No commercial genetically modified crops are grown in Britain now, but the government has conducted crop trials, scientific reviews and cost and benefit studies.
After a three-year research project, British scientists concluded in October that growing herbicide-tolerant corn under trial conditions had not had an adverse effect surrounding plants and wildlife.
In January, a government-appointed committee broadly agreed with that finding. But earlier this month, a powerful committee of lawmakers said the trial were "unsatisfactory" and urged the government not to make a decision until further testing had taken place.
Spain is the only EU country to plant significant amounts of biotech crops, with 32,000 hectares of biotech corn last year, up a third from 2002.
The British Medical Association said genetically modified foods were highly unlikely to be damaging to health. But it said more research and surveillance were needed to allay public concerns and provide convincing evidence of the benefits of growing the crops.
Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, called on the government to change its mind.
"Tony Blair must not ignore the threat GM poses to our food, farming and the environment," he said.
Also Tuesday, European Union officials said EU agriculture ministers will make a last-ditch attempt next month to rule on whether to approve a brand of genetically modified sweet corn for sale.
The application to approve canned sweet corn from a strain developed by Switzerland-based Syngenta will be discussed at a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg April 26-27.
The but proposal is the first to start working its way through a new approval process since EU governments enacted the new labeling rules. If the farm ministers don't get a clear majority, the issue will go back to the EU's executive body, the European Commission, which is expected to clear the corn for sale.
UK's thumbs-up to GM maize
- Daily Telegraph, March 10, 2004
DEFYING widespread public concern, the British government said today it would for the first time allow a genetically modified (GM) crop to be grown commercially, but under strict conditions.
The long expected go-ahead for GM maize, after years of scientific tests and consultations, sparked claims that Prime Minister Tony Blair's government was showing contempt for broad opposition among Britons to bio-engineered crops.
"We should agree in principle to the commercial cultivation of GM herbicide-tolerant maize," Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told parliament.
But such crops had to be grown under strict conditions to prevent an "adverse" impact on the environment, Beckett added.
GM maize grown in Britain -- from spring 2005 at the earliest -- would be for animal consumption only, but some critics have voiced fears it could be indirectly absorbed by humans through cow's milk.
In Europe, the growing of GM crops on a significant scale takes place only in Spain, which has 32,000 ha set aside for GM maize.
Beckett acknowledged that public consultations had revealed "general unease" about GM crops, which have genes added to make them more resistant to some pesticides.
But she defended the government's approach. "It is precautionary. It is evidence-based," she said.
Beckett told parliament: "There is no scientific case for a blanket approval of all uses" of GM crops. "But equally, there is no scientific case for a blanket ban on the use of GM," she said.
However, the environment secretary told the House of Commons that Britain would oppose the growing of GM beet and oilseed rape, not only on its own farms but anywhere in the European Union.
In January, a scientific body commissioned by the British government to look into the issue gave a qualified green light to GM maize, while going against other crops.
The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment analysed results of GM trials of maize, beet and spring-sown oilseed rape at some 60 sites across Britain over the last three years.
Last week, a parliamentary committee urged the government to postpone for at least four years a decision to allow GM crops to be produced commercially in Britain, saying more research was needed.
Reacting to today's go-ahead for GM maize, Sarah North of the Greenpeace environmental group said: "Downing Street should know that there are thousands upon thousands of people ready to fight him (Blair) on this."
"The end result could be chaos in the countryside during an election year," expected in Britain in the first half of 2005.
Michael Meacher, a junior environment minister until 2003, said ahead of the expected GM announcement: "This is the wrong decision because science doesn't support it. The trials are not good evidence."
He alleged that the government's thinking was being driven "by the commercial interest of the big biotech companies like Monsanto and by pressure from the US administration."
The British Medical Association, which represents the majority of the nation's doctors, said GM foods were highly unlikely to cause harmful health effects.
It called for an end to the "hysteria" surrounding the issue, adding that more research was needed "to allay public concern".
Beckett said licences to grow GM maize would expire in October 2006, and that anyone wishing to renew such permission would have to carry out scientific analysis during cultivation.
Farmers wishing to grow GM maize would also have to comply with a code of practice and meet rules on ``coexistence'' with other growers nearby, who feared contamination of their non-GM crops.
Doctors 100% behind GM decision
- Femail.co.uk, 9th March 2004
octors have given their backing to the Government's decision to allow commercial cultivation of genetically modified maize.
In an apparent U-turn over its policy to GM foods, the British Medical Association said there was no reason not to go ahead with commercial planting of GM maize.
Sir David Carter, chairman of the BMA's Board of Science, said it was necessary to "move away from the hysteria that has so often been associated with GM foods".
Asked if he would be 100% behind a decision to allow GM maize for animal feed, he said: "I would say so."
In 1999 the BMA called for an open-ended moratorium on all commercial planting of GM crops until more was known about their effects on human health.
In an updated report it said that rather than a blanket ban it now wanted individual crops to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Though more research was needed, there appeared to be no evidence that eating GM food had harmful health effects, said the BMA.
This assessment was based on cumulative data from countries such as the United States where the population had been exposed to GM foods for a long time.
Sir David said: "It's no longer sensible to impose a moratorium on all aspects of GM foods and their planting.
"That's not to declare an open season on GM planting. We still feel there are a lot of unanswered questions."
GM Foods 'Unlikely to Harm Health'
- The Scotsman, By John von Radowitz, March 9, 2004
Genetically modified foods are highly unlikely to cause harmful health effects, the medical profession said today.
The British Medical Association called for an end to the “hysteria” that often surrounded the GM debate.
At the same time it spoke of the need for more research and surveillance to allay public concerns and provide “convincing evidence of safety and benefit”.
The BMA’s comments come in a report updating its first position statement on GM issued in 1999.
It was prepared after a full review of available evidence, and took account of a spectrum of views on GM safety given at a round table meeting of experts.
Sir David Carter, chairman of the BMA’s Board of Science, said: “Our assessment of all the available research is that there is very little potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects.
“However, the BMA recognises the huge public concern over the impact of GM foods and believes that research is still needed in key areas to allay public concern about the potential risks to human health and the environment.”
The report pointed out that epidemiological surveys would remain impractical while so few of the UK population were exposed to GM foods.
In the United States, where a much larger proportion of the population had been exposed, food-derived illnesses were on the increase, but there was no scientific evidence linking this with GM.
Hospital admissions for allergic disorders, including food allergy, had increased significantly in England between 1990-91 and 2000-01 despite very low levels of exposure to GM foods.
With certain caveats – notably adequate risk assessment, independent and rigorous testing of novel foods, adequate post-marketing surveillance and proper regulation – GM food had “enormous potential to benefit both the developed and developing world in the long term”, said the report.
Sir David added: “We have to move away from the hysteria that has often been associated with GM foods and judge each genetically modified crop on a case-by-case basis. Decisions on whether to grow a particular GM crop in the UK should be made on the basis of whether the benefits outweigh the potential risk of harm to human health and the environment.”
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s Head of Science, said: “The current absence of any evidence suggesting GM foods pose a threat to human health should not lead to complacency.
“Public health surveillance should be so complete that we can be certain that adverse effects from any dietary change would be recognised. We also need a commitment to research in key areas to minimise the potential risks to human health and the environment posed by genetically modified food.”
Key areas for further research identified in the report included the
FOOD ALLERGIES; Further work was needed to assess the potential for GM foods to cause food allergies, said the BMA. This was especially important when producing GM crops based on foods already known to trigger allergic reactions, such as nuts, wheat and soybean.
GENETIC TRANSFER: The transfer of DNA between species had been observed but its significance was uncertain. While people daily consumed large amounts of non-GM genetic material with no identifiable problems, it was necessary to know whether the risk of DNA transfer was enhanced by genetic modification of food.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT: It was important that individual crops were assessed on a case-by-case basis using extensive field trials, said the report. Crops which were more harmful to the environment than conventional varieties should not be licensed for commercial use.
RISK ASSESSMENT AND MONITORING: The report stressed the importance of constantly refining methods of carrying out field trials, updating the risk assessment process, and providing better nutritional information and health surveillance.
Director of Friends of the Earth Tony Juniper said “The Government must reconsider its plans for GM crops.
“Despite Ministers’ best efforts to spin GM as safe and well-understood, they have failed.
“MPs from the Environmental Audit Committee, environment and consumer groups and the British public have raised many valid concerns and made it perfectly clear that the Government must not allow GMN maize to be commercially grown in the UK.
“Tony Blair must not ignore the threat GM poses to our food, farming and the environment.”
UK doctors alter tack to back GMs
- BBC News Online, By Alex Kirby, March 9, 2004
Genetically modified foods are highly unlikely to harm human health, the UK's medical profession says in a surprise reversal of its position 18 months ago.
The British Medical Association says it thinks there is "very little potential" for GM food to produce harmful effects.
It calls for an end to "the hysteria" it says often surrounds the GM debate.
The BMA's Dr Vivienne Nathanson said GM food had "enormous potential to benefit both the developed and developing world in the long term", but care was needed.
The BMA's Board of Science said in an updated position statement that more research and surveillance were still needed to address worries over the potential risks.
Sir David Carter, the board's chairman, said: "Our assessment of all the available research is that there is very little potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects.
"However the BMA recognises the huge public concern over the impact of GM foods and believes that research is still needed in key areas to allay remaining concern about the potential risks to human health and the environment."
Dr Nathanson, the BMA's head of science, said: "The current absence of any evidence suggesting GM foods pose a threat to human health should not lead to complacency.
"Public health surveillance should be so complete that we can be certain that adverse effects from any dietary change would be recognised.
"We also need a commitment to research in key areas to minimise the potential risks to human health and the environment posed by genetically modified food."
The statement says key areas for further research include food allergies, genetic transfer, environmental impact, and risk assessment and monitoring.
The BMA told the Scottish Parliament's health committee in November 2002 that trials of genetically modified crops in Scotland should be halted immediately as a precaution to safeguard public health.
The professional medical body represents more than 13,500 doctors in Scotland and more than 80% of British doctors.
In its submission then, the BMA said: "There has not yet been a robust and thorough search into the potentially harmful effects of GM foodstuffs on human health."
It said the most worrying issue was the potential danger posed by GM crops in creating antibiotic resistance in humans leading to new diseases.
The submission said: "Although the risk is not yet known, any increase in the number of resistant micro-organisms through the transfer of markers from GM foods would potentially have very serious adverse effects on human health."
The Scottish Executive rejected the BMA's concern over the trials, saying it would not have supported them if there had been any question about their safety.
The UK government is today announcing its agreement in principle to allow the commercial planting of one variety of GM maize.
British approval of GM maize prompts Green fury
- Reuters, by Mike Peacock, March 9, 2004
Britain gave conditional approval on Tuesday for commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) maize, prompting fury from environmentalists who threatened to turn the hugely controversial issue into a "nightmare" for Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites).
Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told parliament the government would agree "in principle" to commercial cultivation of GM herbicide-tolerant maize but said it did not expect any to be grown for at least a year.
"There is no scientific case for a blanket approval of all the uses of GM," she said. "Safety, human health and the environment must remain at the heart of our regulatory regime.
"But equally there is no scientific case for a blanket ban on the use of GM."
More than three years of UK trials of gene-altered, herbicide-resistant crops have found that pesticides used on two of them -- sugar beet and rapeseed -- posed a greater threat to the environment than those used on conventional crops.
Only T25/Chardon LL maize -- a type of cattle feed developed by German chemical giant Bayer -- fared better.
Beckett said Britain would oppose growing of GM beet and oilseed rape, that the maize should only be grown as it had been during the field trials and that further research should be conducted on the possible effects on conventional maize.
"I do not in fact anticipate any commercial cultivation of GM maize before Spring 2005 at the earliest," she said.
Further hurdles remain, not least securing backing from the devolved Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly.
The National Farmers Union welcomed the decision but urged the government to proceed with caution.
Green campaigners, however, were aghast.
"The government has given the thumbs up to GM maize and shown two fingers to the British public," said Friends of the Earth (news - web sites) director Tony Juniper. "Tony Blair must not ignore the threat GM poses to our food, farming and the environment."
Blair is a long-time supporter of the technology, in principle, arguing that too much dither risks Britain's position at the cutting edge of scientific innovation, capitalizing on the multi-billion dollar biotechnology industry.
But British and wider European public opinion is overwhelmingly skeptical about so-called "Frankenstein Foods."
Environmental group Greenpeace pledged to turn the issue into a "nightmare" for Blair at next year's expected election.
"There are thousands of people ready to fight him on this. The end result could be chaos in the countryside during an election year," said Greenpeace campaigner Sarah North.
Critics say Blair is bowing to his American allies.
The United States, the world's largest producer of gene crops, has been lobbying hard for the European Union to end its effective five-year ban on GM imports and is also trying to get the World Trade Organization (news - web sites) to declare the moratorium illegal.
"This is the wrong decision," Blair's former environment minister, Michael Meacher, said. "It is driven by the commercial interests of the big biotech companies and no doubt pressure from the White House."
Last week, parliament's cross-party Environmental Audit Committee said doubts remained about the environmental impact of GM crops and that trials on maize, which it said were flawed, should be restarted before commercial planting was allowed.
Whatever the environmental concerns, the British Medical Association said GM foods were unlikely to harm human health.