Letter: Assessing the soya bean risk

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Sir: The genetic engineering of soya beans, which has led to UK protests at the import of such beans ("Greenpeace blockades beans with new genes", 30 November), raises questions about the right of consumers to information.

But a risk assessment of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered soya beans should include a full environmental health impact assessment of the pesticide as well as the beans.

This should cover pollution from energy used for raw material extraction, and hazards from the chemical manufacture, storage, use, food residues, contamination and disposal of the pesticide active ingredient, plus its breakdown products and "inerts". Will the chemical company involved produce such an assessment for public scrutiny?

Ironically, there is much activity at present across the European Union to introduce effective pesticide reduction policies. Integrated pest management techniques, biological control of weeds as well as insects, and the selection of naturally occurring crops resistant to hostile environmental factors have been introduced to cut pesticide usage quite effectively in some countries.

Some crops are now being genetically engineered to increase resistance to diseases, "weeds" and insect pests. This still raises major questions about the impact of such crops, but at least it does remove the need to use pesticides.

The soya bean story you report may produce the worst outcome for consumers, production workers and the environment - a genetically engineered plant and continued and significant pesticide usage: double jeopardy.

Dr ANDREW WATTERSON,

Director, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health,

De Montfort University

Leicester

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