Committee `biased towards bio-firms'

MEMBERS OF the Government committee that advises ministers on genetically modified food are so deeply involved in genetic research that they are unlikely to question it, a member of the committee said last night.

Several members of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes have links to the biotechnology companies, while others are academics researching the subject.

Kate Venables, a senior lecturer at the National Heart and Lung Foundation, who was appointed to the committee in May last year, said its remit was too narrow for it to address public concerns. "Scientists who are desperately excited by the idea of genetic modification are not going to be deflected from this as an interesting and exiting research tool.

"If companies have put millions of pounds into research of something or other then I suspect the Government is going to listen to them. Wouldn't you?" she asked.

She was backed by other experts. Julie Shephard, of the Consumers' Association, was nominated by three organisations for a place on the committee but was rejected. There have been rumours that she was ruled out because of her sceptical views on the subject.

"I would not dream of accusing anybody of acting for improper reasons because of links with commercial interests. I don't think that happens. But I do think it happens in a more subtle way. You are hardly likely to question the fundamental assumptions about its safety if it would mean questioning your whole career," she said.

With political pressure mounting from biotechnology firms including the American corporation Monsanto, the Downing Street policy unit is now arguing that the spread of the foods in Britain is inevitable.

The view of Liz Lloyd, who has responsibility for the subject in the unit and who met Monsanto representatives last year, was apparent when Tony Blair ruled out a moratorium on the crops at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.

The only minister who has continued to argue for a moratorium, Michael Meacher, looks increasingly isolated on the subject.

The pressure for full-scale production of the crops is not just coming from companies within Britain, though. As reported in The Independent on Sunday last year, President Bill Clinton phoned Mr Blair to argue that Britain should accept genetically modified food.

Who Sells What

SAFEWAY

Confirmed own-brand tomato puree contains GM tomatoes but refused to give any other details

MARKS & SPENCER

Could not provide a list of GM products but said all own-brand foods with GM ingredients are labelled

TESCO

Provided a comprehensive list of own-brand foods with GM ingredients, including Value soups and sausages, pies, fresh sauces

SAINSBURY'S

Own-brand tomato puree contains GM tomatoes. The store is currently labelling all own-label GM or GM derivative products. Examples are vegetarian bolognese sauce, soya mince, soya chunks, vegetarian moussaka

ICELAND STORES

Guarantees that all own-brand foods produced after 1 May are GM-free

KWIKSAVE

KwikSave No Frills bread and cheese products

HOUSEHOLD NAMES

Among products containing GM ingredients are: Pot Noodle, Vesta Beef Risotto, Batchelor's Beanfeast, Godzilla pizza-filled skinless sausages, some flavours of Walkers crisps, some flavours of Smith's crisps, Frazzles, Bacon Fries

PROCESSED FOOD

About 60 per cent of processed foods, such as pasta, pizza, baby foods, baby milk, contain GM soya. GM maize from the US may be present in soups, sauces, ready meals, curries, snacks and chewing gum. Soya derivatives, such as soya oil and lecithin, may be present in thousands of processed foods. No obligation to label

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