Fear Grows Over
'Frankenstein Foods'
LONDON - There's a new type of food that people around the world are having a hard time swallowing -- genetically modified products.
Such food is becoming more and more common around the world. In Britain, so is the public outcry. There, memories of mad cow disease are still fresh on people's minds, and the issue is being described as another food crisis.
To bio-technology companies, their ability to genetically alter fruits and vegetables is the dawn of a brave new world. It provides agriculture with the means to grow cheaper, healthier foods.
Tomato plants, for instance, have been modified to produce fruit that doesn't ripen too quickly. By inserting genes from one plant into another, scientists can also improve a crop's resistance to insects or weeds.
"We believe that bio-technology and genetically modified foods is an important component and an important future," says Nigel Poole of Zeneca Food Sciences. "This is only just the first 10 metres in a marathon race."
Zeneca sell more than a half-million tins of their genetically modified tomato paste every year -- and they're not alone. Nearly 60 per cent of Britain's processed foods contain some genetically modified ingredients.
But environmental and consumer groups are trying to turn back the tide of so-called GM foods.
Their message is blunt -- altering the genetic code of grains and vegetables is creating "Frankenstein foods" that threaten human health and the environment.
The groups are demanding more research and a moratorium on growing modified crops.
"We've asked (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair to conduct a root-and-branch reform of the regulatory system immediately," says Julie Sheperd of Britain's consumers association, "and until that's done, not to allow new GM food products onto the market."
Environmental activists recently ripped up a field of genetically modified canola in the British countryside, saying that even growing such plants for research could lead to contamination of other farmers fields.
The refrain of worry is being picked up by retailers across the United Kingdom.
A growing number of fast food outlets and major supermarkets say they don't want genetically modified ingredients in their products.
Burger King and Domino's Pizza are the latest to join the movement. And Iceland Frozen Foods is producing its own line of products using unmodified Canadian soya flour.
Iceland Foods' Bill Wadsworth says genetic modification provides a scientific shortcut to food production, but the alteration may be toxic -- now or in the future.
"What we're concerned about is the fact that ... nobody can tell us what the risk is," Wadsworth tells CBC News.
But some scientists say public fear over genetically modified foods is getting way out of hand.
"People seem to be ignoring the real scientific basis of what is being done in respect of genetic modification. And I think there's very little understanding of the true issues," plant physiologist Mike Black tells CBC News.
Ultimately, the battle over genetically modified ingredients will be won or lost in supermarkets, with consumer's choices on the store shelves.
The British government is about to bring in new regulations for labelling, requiring anyone who sells food, whether in a restaurant or in a supermarket, to warn customers if it contains genetically modified ingredients. That way, it would be consumers who cast the final vote on the future of GM food.