Call for genetic food watchdog

September 4, 1998

THE ROYAL Society has called for independent monitoring of genetically modified crops.

The call is contained in a Royal Society statement on genetically modified food, which concludes that there are positive benefits.

Mike Gale of the John Innes Centre and a member of the society's working group on genetically modified organisms, said: "Because of the arrogance of scientists in not informing the public, it is time to put in place an independent, overarching body.

"Society needs genetically modified organisms, it is a way of providing food for everyone. We have taken a cold look at the scientific evidence and concluded that the risk posed is very slight."

But the society is worried about a lack of planning, regulation and policy mechanisms. "The Royal Society therefore urges the government to establish an independent overarching regulatory body to span departmental responsibilities, monitor the enforcement of existing or future regulations and strengthen the guidelines to growers of such crops."

Zeneca, the company that helped to develop the technology behind genetically modified tomato puree, was sceptical. "I find this recommendation puzzling," said spokesman Nigel Poole. "I look forward to seeing how it fits in with industry requirements. Zeneca needs a clear regulatory route map and regulations in which the public can have confidence."

But pressure groups were welcoming. "It is quite apparent that the present system of regulation is not working," said Adrian Bebb, who campaigns against genetically modified food on behalf of Friends of the Earth. "Any new ideas are very welcome."

The Royal Society also highlighted worries about an antibiotic resistance gene, which is used as a device to identify genetically engineered plants in the lab. The working group concluded that the chances of gene transfer happening are slight but its use in food products was still of concern.

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