Letter: Seeds of peril in genetically altered food

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Sir: Following Nicholas Schoon's article "Nothing to fear from techno-corn" (11 December), I would like to express my concern over the "wholesome meal" that he believes genetically engineered food represents.

First, the destructive possibilities of GE food go well beyond the "dozens, perhaps hundreds" of lives lost that he predicts. Beyond the danger of a crop "taking on an uncontrollable life of its own", we contend with dangers from:

Allergies (where an individual allergic to peanuts, for example, could suffer fatal shock in reaction to a peanut gene engineered into an unrelated foodstuff);

Antibiotic resistance: the process of altering DNA often requires the introduction of genes that protect against antibiotics, which could recombine with bacteria in the human stomach - a good way to encourage "superbugs" that infect humans but are immune to antibiotic treatment;

The possibility of epidemics, which gather strength in transferring between species. In a worst-case scenario, which may not be likely but which is certainly possible, "human survival would be marginal" (Cummins, the University of West Ontario, 1994).

If all of these risks were necessary to avert famine and produce major benefits to the population, perhaps they would be tolerable - however, "for food-altered patents, 98 per cent of genetic alterations are done to make food production and processing easier and more profitable for the companies doing it. Only 2 per cent are aimed at improved taste and nutrition" (the Council for Responsible Genetics).

Forcing GE food on us is not merely "regrettable", but criminally irresponsible.


London SW17