Inquiry warned over milk from GM-fed cows

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A scientist giving evidence at a public inquiry into a genetically modified (GM) maize intended for animals has said he would not drink the milk of cows fed on it.

A scientist giving evidence at a public inquiry into a genetically modified (GM) maize intended for animals has said he would not drink the milk of cows fed on it.

Professor Bob Orskov, of the independent International Feed Resource Unit, told a hearing yesterday that "if the GM maize was approved for commercial growing in the UK, then people would be justified in turning their back on consuming milk derived from it". He added: "As a scientist, I wouldn't drink milk from cows fed GM maize with the present state of knowledge."

Another expert witness, Dr Vyvyan Howard, who is head of the Foetal and Infant Toxico-Pathology group at the University of Liverpool, told the hearing: "My interpretation is that this GM maize has not been tested thoroughly." He said after examining data from the biotechnology company Aventis, which makes the GM maize, there appeared to be "statistically significant" differences between the fat, protein and fibre composition of its "Chardon LL" GM strain and non-GM varieties.

But Des D'Souza, for Aventis, said last night that "the requirements for testing are set by the Government, not industry. We have met those requirements." Chardon LL has also been grown commercially and fed to animals since 1997 in the US and Canada with no ill effects, he added.

Professor Orskov and Dr Howard were giving evidence at a public inquiry to examine whether Chardon LL should be added to the UK's "National Seed Listing". Being included on that list is an essential step towards the crop being commercially planted, although Aventis and other biotech companies producing GM crops have said that they will wait for the outcome of the Government's "farm-scale" trials of such crops before they consider their wide-scale use. The trials could take up to three years to produce results.

But if the trials said that GM crops did not harm the environment, then any GM product already included on the National Seed List could be planted immediately. The maize in question is genetically engineered to be resistant to a particular pesticide produced by Aventis. The crop would only be used as "forage" to feed animals, principally in winter.

But Professor Orskov attacked the lack of rigour that had gone into its production. "It has only been fed as grain to chickens, not as a crop to cattle, which have four stomachs rather than one," he said after the hearing. "We need to carry out proper long-term tests both on the effect of the maize silage on the microbes in the stomach of the ruminants which digest the feed, and on the host animals. This has not been done."

Dr Howard added: "In [Aventis's] testing they have taken a protein from another plant and fed it to rats. I do not feel that this can be used as a basis for making judgements about the safety of this GM maize with respect to cattle."

Aventis is refusing to present any evidence at the hearing, despite being warned by the presiding barrister that not to do so could endanger its case.

The hearings follow pressure by the green group Friends of The Earth, which used a little-known aspect of the seed legislation to force a public hearing. The Government received so many objections that it was obliged to hold a public inquiry, which has been running since 2 October.

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