British Medical Association
Calls For Open-Ended
Ban On GM Crops
By Robert Matthews & Adrian Humphreys
The Sunday Telegraph and National Post
Ontario, Canada
The British Medical Assocation has called for a open-ended ban on the commercial planting of genetically-modified crops.
A report from the BMA claims that sufficient evidence that GM organisms are safe has not yet been gathered, and that they should not be released into the environment until the level of 'scientific certainty' makes it acceptable.
The ban should continue, it says, until there is scientific consensus about the likelihood of long-term effects.
The BMA call comes 24 hours before the publication of two high-level reports into the controversial scientist whose work sparked the original GM debate.
Dr Arpad Pusztai, from the Rowlett Institute in Aberdeen claimed rats fed GM potatoes had suffered damaged internal organs and immune systems.
The institute accused him of publicising unproven theories, and confusing his results with those from other experiments.
On Tuesday May 18, the influential Royal Society of Medicine will release a review of Dr Pusztai's work, and the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee will publish its report into the handling of the affair.
The BMA report calls for the government's proposed regulatory body, the Food Standards Agency, to be established quickly, given control over GM food production, and even consider a complete ban on products which mix GM and non-GM ingredients.
Sir William Asscher, Chairman of the BMA's Board of Science and Education said: "Once the GM genie is out of the bottle, the impact on the environment is likely to be irreversible. That is why the precautionary principle is so particularly important on this issue."
The BMA also claims that the use of antibiotic-resistant 'marker genes' in GM crops could make human diseases more difficult to treat as so-called superbugs develop their own resistance.
The Government would also have to step up its own disease monitoring procedures, says the report, to look out for new diseases possibly caused by GM foods.
Allergic reactions
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA Head of Health Policy and Research, told the BBC: "This is the first time that a group of doctors have said: `We think there is reason to be far more cautious, to take time in making sure we actually do understand the science.'.
"Because once we have discharged them into the environment, you cannot turn the clock back." The government currently allows limited planting of GM foods for research purposes, and will have to decide next spring whether to allow more widescale commercial planting.
A spokesman for GM producer Monsanto said: "How much more regulation do the BMA want? GM crops and GM foods are the most highly regulated novel products available." Interviewed by the BBC, the government's Chief Scientific Officer Sir Robert May said that if a particular threat to health could be identified, regulatory bodies would take action.
He said: "That is a bit different from the vaguely non-specific thing of saying anything new might have something unexpected - and you could invoke that against any novel food."
David Curry MP, a Conservative member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Food Standards, told the BBC that there was no evidence 'that anyone could point to' of a medical risk.
He said, however: "We have a lot of confusion and a situation spinning entirely out of control, and it doesn't surprise me that people at the moment simply don't have the sense that anybody is on top of this. They don't have the sense of reassurance."
`Trials could fail'
In an edition of the BBC's Panorama, broadcast on Monday May 17, Prof Mike Roberts, from the Natural Environment Research Council, said that the GM crop trials he runs for the government could fail.
"If we can't find enough farmers willing to particpate, that would certainly jeopardise the trials.
"If they are going to come under the sort of pressure that we are seeing at the moment, clearly many of them will think twice about it."
But Cabinet Office Minister Jack Cunningham also told Panorama: "The potential for the bio-sciences in the British economy is enormous, and it would be foolish for us, for this Government, to cut ourselves off from that potential."