Gummer pledge on genetic maize

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The Independent Online
The Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, yesterday suggested he would not allow the US to export its genetically modified maize to Britain.

"It is true that the Americans are trying to force this on to Europe without us making our own minds up about it," he conceded on BBC radio.

"One of the important reasons for the EU is that we are strong enough to say to the Americans that `We decide what we want in our food chain and not you'."

The Independent revealed yesterday that ministers had been warned that the American corn was on its way and that it posed a risk to health.

It published details of a memorandum to Mr Gummer from Dr William Parish, of the DoE's chemicals and biotechnology division, which warned: "[The maize] will be imported shortly despite the fact that it is not authorised in an unprocessed form and that the UK objected to proposals to authorise it." He added: "There is bound to be concern that [the maize] represents a risk to human health and safety or to the environment."

The genetically altered product (GM maize) has already been mixed with normal corn for export by American growers. British officials admit they cannot tell the difference once the two are mixed.

The memo warned that the GM Maize was expected to arrive in Britain early this month.

It said: "A selective ban on imports from the USA would remove an important source of raw material from the food and feed processing industry in the UK and raise trade questions.

"It is too late for those users awaiting their supplies of the US maize to secure other lines of supply at this stage."

Labour called on Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, to take "immediate steps" to stop genetically altered American corn being allowed to enter the British food chain.

Nigel Griffiths MP, Labour's spokesman on consumer affairs, will raise the matter in Parliament, calling for a government inquiry into the dangers.

"I want the consumer safety unit at the Department of Trade and Industry to evaluate the threat to British consumers," he said.

The GM maize can be made into flour, corn flakes and polenta and in the production of starch and sugar.

The greatest concerns are over its use in cattle feed without being subjected to cooking or processing.

It is feared that because the maize has been genetically altered to resist insects it will lead to drug-resistant bacteria developing in the cattle's digestive system.

Mr Gummer said he would be hearing the views of top European scientists on the product on Monday.

He will attend a meeting of the EC Environment Council which will consider whether to allow the marketing of the GM maize within the EU.

He said there was concern about its unprocessed form if it were used for animal feed.

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