Gm foods campaign: a week in the news

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The Independent Online
MONDAY

t MORI poll shows that 57 per cent of the public are concerned about genetically modified food.

t American scientists warn that there could be global consequences of using GM foods. Professor Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois School of Public Health says: "Genetic modification of food is a dangerous game of ecological roulette."

TUESDAY

t Green campaigners and senior Tories call for Science Minister Lord Sainsbury to be removed from his post over allegations that he still retains control of the charitable trust the Gatsby Foundation. Gatsby has spent pounds 18m on researching genetically engineered organisms since 1990, although Sainsbury's only links are the power to hire and fire the foundation's trustees. Gatsby also finances a "public information service" - promoting genetically modified food - called Biotechnology in Our Future.

t Friends of the Earth chairman Charles Secrett says: "When Sainsbury comes out of government he is likely to be handed back his commercial interests in GM food. His laboratory will be at the forefront of the science partly because of the money he indirectly donated through research. And there is the probability of a culture of acceptance of GM food that as a minister he is likely to have helped to foster."

WEDNESDAY

t Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker concedes that GM food does pose "a really serious problem". He warns food producers that consumers will vote with their feet unless their concerns are listened to.

t Labour MEP David Bowe says new British regulations could pre-empt Brussels' own plan to introduce tighter controls. "I feel we might see British legislation before we are finally finished with European legislation," he says.

t Cabinet enforcer Jack Cunningham - who banned beef-on-the-bone as Agriculture Minister - attacks the Tories for calling for a three-year moratorium on GM food, saying it undermines public confidence and damages British prospects.

t A survey carried out by market research company Mintel shows that the vast majority of people want the Government to introduce food labelling in supermarkets showing if a product has been genetically modified. The Report into Food Safety finds that GM foods are of concern to 36 per cent of consumers with 78 per cent calling for them to be clearly labelled.

THURSDAY

t Dr Arpad Pusztai, who was forced to retire by the Rowett Research Institute and condemned for saying GM foods could damage human health, is backed by 20 scientists from around the world. He left the government-funded institute in Aberdeen last August after his research suggested a link between GM food and ill health in rats.

Vyvyan Howard, a toxipathologist at Liverpool University and one of the scientists who is backing Dr Pusztai, explains: "We find that his data is sound. We think it would pass peer review and be published, and we are at a loss to explain why the Rowett Institute came to the conclusion it did."

The Government's handling of the GM food issue is criticised when Mr Cunningham is accused of misleading MPs into believing that its official wildlife advisers, English Nature, had not recommended a three-year moratorium on GM crops.

English Nature's chairman, Lady Young, said they were not asking for a ban of all crops but only those likely to damage the countryside. Delegates from the Genetix Food Alert campaign, which represents more than 100 health food companies, present a petition to Downing Street which calls for a five-year ban on the use of GM food and the wholesale commercial growing of GM crops.

FRIDAY

t Food safety campaigners warn supermarkets that they may face legal action if GM foods cause illness. Tim Lobstein, who is co-director of the Food Commission, the consumer watchdog, warns: "If there are implications for public health in the future as a result of GM ingredients being put in the food chain then this may raise the question of legal liability."

t Safeway says it will sell products containing GM ingredients provided it has approval from the appropriate regulatory authorities and "tangible benefits" for consumers. Meanwhile Asda says that it is working to remove all GM ingredients from its own-brand products. Iceland and Marks & Spencer have responded to reports of public aversion to so-called Frankenstein foods by not stocking them at all.

t Greenpeace launches a campaign against GM food. Campaign director Doug Parr says: "If the genetic modification process is causing problems then the Government should apply the precautionary principle."

t Patrick Holden, who is director of the Soil Association, says: "The Government must stop all imports of GM foods on the grounds of safety. Consumers are clearly extremely concerned and rightly so."

t At a Westminster news conference Dr Ronald Finn, past president of the British Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, says: "We could be going into a mad cow situation."

t Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Tim Yeo calls for the sacking of Jack Cunningham. "The Prime Minister should sack Jack Cunningham for deliberately misleading the House of Commons over the position of English Nature and a moratorium."

SATURDAY

t Retailers fear disaster at the impact of customers' fears about GM foods. The umbrella group, the British Retail Consortium, writes to the Government, warning that billions of pounds of profits are at stake if customers start to lose confidence. Somerfield/Kwik Save vow to order GM labelling on its own-label brands. Waitrose is working on phasing out all GM products in its stores.

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