Letter: Food safety and genetic manipulation

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Sir: We have read the article 'Do we have to eat our genes?' (16 October) with concern since we believe that it paints a false picture of the position in the UK.

Far from 'Britain . . . being in a reverie', there has been a systematic and open consideration of the safety issues raised by foods produced by procedures involving genetic manipulation. The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods & Processes, of which we are both members and which also has a consumer representative, publishes an annual report, which is followed then by a press conference.

It was a question put to this committee that led to the work of the Committee on the Ethics of Genetic Modification and Food Use, of which we were also both members. This committee was concerned with ethical issues arising from transgenic foods. It concluded that genes are complex chemicals that take their status from the living cell in which they operate, and that there was no ethical need for a ban on transgenic foods.

It also recognised that particular genetic transfers can give rise to problems for particular communities (such as the transfer of pig genes for Muslims and animal genes for some vegetarians).

Our recommendation relating to labelling was that a practicable system should be derived to facilitate informed choice by those with reservations. The committee certainly did not oppose transgenic foods as such.

Yours faithfully,



University of East Anglia



Queens' College


19 October