Europe: We don't know enough about GM health risks


Last updated at 11:17 19 April 2006

There are huge gaps in safety knowledge about GM foods and crops, the European Commission has admitted.

Documents compiled by Brussels officials show the controversial technology has been unleashed without proper investigation.

They admit there are 'large areas of uncertainty' about the impact on human health, the countryside and wildlife and that 'some issues have not yet been studied at all'.

On human safety, the dossier says: "There simply is no way of ascertaining whether the introduction of GM products has had any other effect on human health."

The revelations were seized on by green campaigners. They called for the suspension of all GM foods and crops, many of which are used in animal feed, until the safety issues are addressed.

The Brussels dossier was compiled to explain why EU governments have been slow to accept GM food and crops.

It was produced in response to legal action at the World Trade Organisation by the US government, which claims Europe is unfairly restraining trade by delaying approval.

The Commission dossier states: "There is no unique, absolute, scientific cut-off threshold available to decide whether a GM product is safe or not."

On crops, it says it is reasonable to delay the planting of GM crops, which are modified to kill insects that attack them, "until all the effects on the soil are known". It says a key scientific study used to support the technology was "scientifically flawed". The dossier reinforces fears that biotech companies have effectively hijacked the GM approval process because they fund and run virtually all the safety assessment studies.

Independent farm-scale trials in the UK, the only ones of their kind in the world, found huge problems in terms of harm to wild plants, insects and birds such as the skylark.

The dossier suggests that the European Food Safety Authority, which is asked by the EU to assess GM products, has not been sufficiently rigorous.

It criticises EFSA for not requiring further investigations after a study found one type of GM maize or corn had nega-tive effects on earthworms.

Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "This is a political scandal. The European Commission must call a halt to the sale and growth of all genetically modified food and crops given the serious concerns over their safety that have come to light."

She said previous safety assurances from Brussels must now be considered bogus.

Greenpeace campaigner Christoph Then said: "The truth is now out in the open for all to see. The released EU papers outline detailed scientific concerns about the safety of genetically modified food and crops.

"These revelations are astonishing. They show contempt for humans and the environment, and prove that Europe's safety net is not working."

The dossier is a vindication of complaints from former environment minister Michael Meacher, who has repeatedly questioned the assessment system.

He said: "The Government relies on the mantra that nothing will go in the ground or on to supermarket shelves until full testing has been carried out. But these tests are just not being done.

"To claim that everything is being done on the basis of full safety analysis, both in terms of the environment and human health, is a confidence trick. These are entirely vacuous words."

Despite the many gaps in evidence, the Commission has approved seven GM foods, mainly corn and soya, over the past two years.

It has also cleared the commercial cultivation of 31 varietes of GM corn created by U biotech giants Monsanto Officials have apparently bowed to political pressure from the US government. Some powerful EU governments, particularly the UK, have also been pushing the Commission to accept GM crops and food.

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