M&S sells genetically modified Frankenpants

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MARTINE McCUTCHEON wears them. So, at the opposite end of the fashion spectrum, does Lady Thatcher. But Marks & Spencer's knickers, which were roundly condemned last week by the firm's own shareholders for being unsexy, are indeed not what they seem. They are, in fact, "genetically modified".

The high street store, which proudly boasts it has withdrawn GM ingredients from its own brand food, has not taken the same rigorous approach with its underwear. M&S says that since its clothing is not eaten, as far as it knows, by customers, there is no need to stitch in GM labels.

The store says it is impossible to find out if clothing is produced from GM cotton because the DNA does not appear in the fibre. "The trouble is we can't test for it. There's absolutely no way we can tell if the cotton is from a GM plant," said Bob Underwood, M&S cotton specialist. "The material is no different."

Environmentalists want to meet M&S representatives to discuss the fibres used in the knickers. "We have written to ask whether they will ban GM cotton from their shelves," said Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth. "Public concern does not stop with food safety. The public is also worried about the effect of GM crops on the environment."

Consumer groups argue that customers should have the same choice over GM knickers as they do over sandwiches. They want special labels to be put on all clothes whose fibres come from genetically engineered plants. "Given that M&S have reacted positively to consumer concern about GM food the inevitable next step is labelling clothes," said a spokesman for the Consumers Association.

The briefs and bikini range are made from cotton fibres grown all over the world - including the biggest exporting country America, where almost half of the crop is now genetically modified. Like GM soya from the US, which is labelled in Britain, GM cotton is not separated from ordinary plants.