Revealed: Shocking new evidence of the dangers of GM crops

Genetically modified strains have contaminated two-thirds of all crops in US

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
07 March 2004

More than two-thirds of conventional crops in the United States are 
now contaminated with genetically modified material - dooming 
organic agriculture and posing a severe future risk to health - a 
new report concludes.

The report - which comes as ministers are on the verge of approving 
the planting of Britain's first GM crop, maize - concludes that 
traditional varieties of seed are "pervasively contaminated" by 
genetically engineered DNA. The US biotech industry says it is 
"not surprised" by the findings.

Because of the contamination, the report says, farmers unwittingly 
plant billions of GM seeds a year, spreading genetic modification 
throughout US agriculture. This would be likely to lead to danger 
to health with the next generation of GM crops, bred to produce 
pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals - delivering "drug-laced 
cornflakes" to the breakfast table.

The report comes at the worst possible time for the Government, 
which is trying to overcome strong resistance from the Scottish 
and Welsh administrations to GM maize.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee drew attention 
to the problem in North America in a report published on Friday, 
and said the Government had not paid enough attention to it. The 
MPs concluded: "No decision to proceed with the commercial growing 
of GM crops [in Britain] should be made until thorough research 
into the experience with GM crops in North America has been 
completed and published". It would be "irresponsible" for ministers 
to give the green light to the maize without further tests.

Peter Ainsworth, the committee chairman, accuses the Cabinet of 
"great discourtesy" to Parliament by making its decision on the 
maize last Thursday, the day before the report came out, and plans 
to raise the issue with the Speaker of the House.

This week's statement by Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for 
the Environment, is expected to fall short of authorising immediate 
planting of the maize, and provide only a muted endorsement for 
the technology. She will make it clear that the Government wants 
the GM industry to compensate farmers whose crops are contaminated. 
This could make cultivation uncommercial. The US study will increase 
the pressure on her to be tough.

Under the auspices of the green-tinged Union of Concerned Scientists, 
two separate independent laboratories tested supposedly non-GM seeds 
"representing a substantial proportion of the traditional seed supply" 
for maize, soya and oilseed rape, the three crops whose modified 
equivalents are grown widely in the United States.

The test found that at "the most conservative expression", half the 
maize and soyabeans and 83 per cent of the oilseed rape were 
contaminated with GM genes - just eight years after the modified 
varieties were first cultivated on a large scale in the US.

The degree of contamination is thought to be at a relatively low 
level of about 0.5 to 1 per cent. The reports says that 
"contamination ... is endemic to the system". It adds: "Heedlessly 
allowing the contamination of traditional plant varieties with 
genetically engineered sequences amounts to a huge wager on our 
ability to understand a complicated technology that manipulates life 
at the most elemental level." There could be "serious risks to health" 
if drugs and industrial chemicals from the next generation of GM 
crops got into food.

Lisa Dry, of the US Biotechnology Industry Association, said that 
the industry was "not surprised by this report, knowing that pollen 
travels and commodity grains might co-mingle at various places". 

   8 March 2004 00:04

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