Health risks of GM food monitored study

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT'S most senior scientific and medical advisers have urged ministers to create a special unit to monitor the potential health risks of eating genetically modified (GM) food.

The unit would be similar to the CJD monitoring unit set up during the BSE crisis and would have a remit of checking everything from new cancers to birth defects.

The chief medical officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Robert May, have told ministers that the unit is needed to keep pace with research on the effects of GM foods.

A confidential report commissioned by Jack Cunningham, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, makes clear that such a unit was needed because "our understanding [of the health implications] is still developing".

Mr Cunningham, who also chairs a cabinet committee on biotechnology set up by Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, has already indicated he will act on the report's recommendations.

The unit would "monitor the health effects of GM organisms, similar to the unit monitoring CJD", the report states. It goes on to state that it will scrutinise "potential health effects" including "foetal abnormalities, new cancers and effects on the human immune system".

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office confirmed the ministerial committee on biotechnology and GM organisms had received the draft report "a while ago". She stressed that the report, which is expected to be published in the next few weeks, had found "no evidence" of any current health risks and there was "no cause for concern".

Mr Cunningham, who last week attacked the "media hysteria" over GM foods, told MPs it was wrong to make comparisons with the "BSE catastrophe". Mr Cunningham told the environmental audit committee he accepted the Government had a responsibility to "stimulate an informed public debate".

Last week, Tony Blair reiterated the Government's stance that there were no proven health risks with any GM products such as soya and maize currently on sale in supermarkets.

However, Tesco, Bird's Eye Walls and Nestle all announced that consumer concern had led them to begin removing GM ingredients from their brands.