Ministers told to study GM food cancer risks

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The Independent Online
THE COUNTRY'S most senior doctor has told ministers to set up a special panel to examine whether eating genetically modified food could cause birth defects, cancer or damage to the human immune system.

In a confidential report to the Government, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser have recommended that ministers set up a GM health monitoring unit, similar to the body of experts which discovered a link between eating beef from BSE infected cows and human CJD.

They believe not enough research has been done to determine whether eating GM food could cause serious health problems in humans.

The report, seen last month by the ministerial committee on genetic modification, proposes "the creation of a new unit to monitor the health effects of GMOs, similar to the unit monitoring CJD". It should examine "potential health effects" including "foetal abnormalities, new cancers, and effects on the human immune system".

Professor Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, and Sir Robert May, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, concluded that "our understanding [of the effect of GMOs on human health] is still developing". While there is no conclusive evidence, their findings will renew public concern that GM food could lead to unknown health consequences.

Scientists, including Dr Michael Antoniou of Guy's Hospital in London, have warned that genetic engineering could lead to the creation of new allergies, cancers and other illnesses in human beings because of "the disruption of our natural genetic order".

"The reasons why we can't be specific about the health consequences of GM food is that we don't know enough," said Dr Antoniou. "Each genetic engineering event holds its own dangers. You could have acute toxicity or something that sneaks up over many years. Any of these things are possible."