UN food body calls for strict new rules on GM crops

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The Independent Online

A powerful United Nations safety body has warned that the failure to carry out full health checks on GM foods could lead to toxic reactions, allergies and increased resistance to antibiotics.

The food standards body, part of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, has called for strict worldwide safety checks and scientific studies to stop dangerous GM foods being sold.

Its decision - seen as the legal standard for GM food regulation worldwide - will increase pressure on ministers and the Food Standards Agency to introduce tougher, more up-to-date safety checks on new GM crops and foods.

The guidelines - agreed in Rome last week by the FAO's Codex Alimentarius Commission, which sets food safety rules for the UN - are welcomed by consumer and health campaigners who say they are a substantial defeat for the US, which is trying to overturn a temporary European Union ban on the sale of many GM foods and crops.

Many observers believe the guidelines will weaken US claims that the EU's moratorium is unjustified, though anti-GM campaigners accept the guidelines make it more likely that GM foods will soon be widely sold in Britain.

Last week, the European Parliament cleared the way for the sale of GM foods and the lifting of the EU's moratorium by voting for a strict regime which means any product with more than 0.9 per cent GM ingredients has to be labelled as GM. Britain's GM crop trials end this summer and commercial planting is expected within months.

The Codex guidelines state that GM foods should be free of genes from allergenic plants or foods, such as peanuts or gluten, unless cleared by safety checks.

They also ban GM foods from using DNA from any antibiotics used by doctors, or genes which pass on known toxins or cut the nutritional value of food.

The FAO commission also criticised claims that some GM foods can be seen as safe because they appear to be genetically identical to conventional foods.