Parliament: Food - GM food benefits `outweigh risk'

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The Independent Online
GENETICALLY MODIFIED (GM) crops and food offer potential benefits that far outweigh their risks, as long as there is a proper regulatory framework in place, a House of Lords committee declared yesterday.

The European Communities committee called for a new committee to watch the effects of GM crops on agriculture, the environment and labelling on foods that contained more than a certain level of GM substances.

The report, to which the Government will have to respond, looked only at modification of plants, noting that the application of gene modification to animals "is at a much earlier stage" and raises different ethical issues. "Genetic modification, like any new technology [carries] risks and it should only be applied when they can be assessed and controlled," said Lord Reay, the chairman of the inquiry.

Baroness Young of Old Scone, the chairwoman of English Nature, added: "Everyone must be confident that GM crops will only be grown if there are adequate safeguards, properly enforced, for both human health and the wider environment."

The committee also noted that the UK's rigorous regulatory structure meant that if the potato were discovered tomorrow, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Practices would not license it, because under certain circumstances potatoes produce toxins.

But Greenpeace said: "At no point did they ask what the justification is for allowing companies involved in the genetic engineering of foods to expose the public and the environment to the risks posed by it."

Friends of the Earth said the report contained errors of fact - about whether organic farmers could use GM crops - and was "intellectually confused". Pete Riley, a food campaigner, called it "the wrong report, written at the wrong time, by the wrong people".

Ann Foster, for Monsanto, the biotechnology giant, said: "Clearly, we are now moving towards a sensible discussion of the science, and away from scare stories and myths."