Ethics may have canned tomatoes

December 17, 1999

An anti-GM political agenda, fuelled by public concern, may be responsible for threatening eight years of research into health-boosting transgenic tomatoes, scientists have warned.

A long-established investigation of GM tomatoes with heightened levels of antioxidants, by Peter Bramley, professor of biochemistry at Royal Holloway College, London, and colleagues across Europe, has failed to gain funding from the European Commission's Framework 5 programme.

Professor Bramley suspects a political agenda may have been responsible for the rejection after eight years of European backing, along with the adoption of stricter ethical analysis of applications and reports that transgenic research had fared poorly in the latest round.

"It appears other criteria beyond scientific judgement are causing the rejection of high-quality, internationally competitive science," he said. However, a Framework 5 spokesman said there had been no decision to steer the commission away from GM research.

He admitted there was greater emphasis on the social benefits of projects, but said concern among British biotechnologists had been caused by misinterpreting the new approach to categorising research.

"Unfortunately, we cannot fund all projects and inevitably some good ones that may have been funded in the past do not get funded this time around," he said.

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