Letter: Food agency must tackle health risks

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The Independent Online
Sir: The welcome given to Professor Philip James' interim report on a food standards agency ("Food safety brief switches to health", 9 May) needs to be tempered in light of the unpredictable risks of genetically engineered (GE) foods, recognised in the report as one of the four major concerns to be addressed.

Welcome though separation of powers and openness would be, a more fundamental question should be how to handle risks like GE food where science leaves inevitable uncertainties. It is not good enough to regulate once scientific uncertainties are reduced. As BSE has shown, by then both the health dangers and public confidence can become unmanageable. Yet rarely is the option of risk avoidance taken.

No technical assessment has a way of predicting all the possible effects of eating GE foods, day in day out for years on end. Lay observers recognise this and urge caution, but decision-makers look at the assertion that there is "no evidence" and treat it as if it means "no risk" - so we are all rapidly becoming part of a massive experiment in eating GE food.

A new food agency must tackle this issue head on. The agency must be able to call a halt to such new developments with their unpredictable consequences. This means a very broad remit, much broader than that envisaged, and yet is inherent in gaining the public confidence that the agency's promoters yearn for.


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