UK to fight European embargo on GM corn

A A A

Britain will try to break a five-year Europe-wide moratorium on new GM foods tomorrow by attempting to give the go-ahead for a modified sweetcorn to be put on sale to shoppers. But The Independent on Sunday can reveal that an official report shows the corn has not been properly tested for safety.

The move to approve the sweetcorn - developed by the biotech firm Syngenta and incorporating an insecticide - will be made by a European Union committee. The Food Standards Agency, which represents Britain on the committee, is pushing for it to be given the green light, against the wishes of environment and agriculture ministers.

No new GM foods have been approved for consumers anywhere in the EU since 1998, when a moratorium was imposed. But the Bush administration has campaigned against the halt, and the approval of the sweetcorn - codenamed Bt11 - is seen as a "symbolic gesture" to appease the United States.

Ministers are reluctant to give the go-ahead at a time when they have promised to consider the results of the Government's own consultation of the public this summer before taking action: the consultation showed that only 8 per cent of Britons would gladly eat GM food. But the FSA - which has been widely criticised for being pro-GM and anti-organic produce - is defying them, taking the view that it can see no reason not to approve the modified food.

The agency's position, however, is exploded by the report, which concludes that safety testing of GM foods - including the sweetcorn - has been sporadic, non-existent, or based on assumptions that cannot be verified. The report - Toxikologie und Allergologie von GVO-Produkten - is the result of a study "to investigate the practice of safety evaluation" carried out by the Austrian government, and is relevant to Britain because the tests and approval process are carried out on an EU-wide basis. The study focused on 11 applications covering maize, beet, potato, oilseed rape, cotton and carnations, as well as the Bt11 sweetcorn.

It says that tests for toxicity of GM products are "carried out rather sporadically". Not one of the applications made by biotech firms for approval of the proposed foods and plants provided information on the toxicity of the whole product, and most of such tests as had been carried out "cannot be verified or reviewed". It goes on: "GM products are very often declared as being safe just by assumption-based reasoning" but adds that "these assumptions are sometimes not easily, or not at all, verifiable". Meanwhile systematic "risk-assessment procedures" for the applications are "lacking".

Checking for "potentially allergic properties" of the products, one of the main concerns surrounding GM foods, is even more deficient. Here, the report reveals "no direct testing ... was carried out". Such indirect evidence as was assembled was "insufficient", and some of the scientific references provided to "confirm the safety of the products ... are cited wrongly, or are outdated, or are even suspected to be selectively quoted".

In the absence of proper testing, biotech companies have traditionally relied merely on asserting that GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to their non-GM counterparts, and regulatory authorities have waved them through on that basis.

But the Austrian government report shows that the applications - including the one for the sweetcorn to be considered tomorrow - fail even this undemanding requirement. It says that the concept is used "to argue for the safety" of every GM product it considered, but added: "The parameters chosen ... are not comprehensive enough to justify substantial equivalence and/or to detect probable unintended secondary effects."

Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said last night: "The report clearly shows that safety testing is a sham. Yet the Food Standards Agency is over-ruling ministers by planning to give this new GM food the go-ahead.

"The agency was set up on the basis of putting the consumer first and should respect the clearly expressed view of the British people rather than flouting them in favour of its own prejudices." The FSA declined to comment.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition