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?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Accountant

£25000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?