Politics: Modified foods face new curbs

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The Independent Online
The Government will use its presidency of the European Union to tighten procedures for approving genetically modified food, the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said.

In a Commons written answer he said he planned to press for ethical issues to be taken properly into account before modified foods such as soya and maize were approved for sale in Europe. "We have considerable concerns about the current procedures relating to the marketing and release of genetically modified organisms."

Although genetically modified soya products are on sale in Britain, a dispute is going on in Europe over approval of maize modified to resist weed killer and corn-borer pests.

The maize has been approved for sale in the EU despite opposition from the European Parliament, but Luxembourg and Austria decided to ban it. Mr Meacher said he expected the issue to be discussed at the European Environment Council in June. He wanted to see tighter controls written into the European Directive controlling marketing and release of the foods, which was being revised at the moment, he said. In a statement the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions said the process for approval should be made more transparent. There were also suggestions there should be more analysis of the products' environmental effects, it said. Soya modified by the American firm Monsanto so that it can be sprayed with weedkiller is already approved and makes up about 15 per cent of beans imported into Britain. They go into 60 per cent of processed foods. Now an argument is taking place over approval of maize produced by another company, Novartis. Environmentalists' main concern about the maize is that it contains a "marker" gene used in lab tests which is resistant to antibiotics. Greenpeace says it could lead to resistance in farm animals and humans.

Dr Ian Taylor, scientific political adviser to Greenpeace, said the way European procedures worked meant that applications to sell modified food could only be rejected if all the partners were against them. As one country would have had to propose the move, this was almost impossible.

What's in the food? Page 21