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.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'