'Keep eye on impact of hi-tech'

December 21, 2001

The former head of the government advisory committee that dealt with genetically modified crops has called for more research into the damage that technology is inflicting on the environment.

In his foreword to the review of European Commission-sponsored research on the safety of GM organisms, Sir John Beringer says that corresponding work is required to look at intensive agriculture and the exploitation of natural resources.

"Should we not concentrate research on how to satisfy the needs of humans, while at the same time respecting and protecting wildlife and the environment?" he says.

The report outlines 81 EC-sponsored projects investigating the safety of GMOs, involving more than 400 teams of scientists and a budget of £43.3 million over 15 years. So far, no significant problems have been identified.

Sir John, professor of molecular genetics at Bristol University and chair of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment until 1999, describes the work as one "one of the best-kept secrets".

"A decade of research has been done and millions of euros have been spent, but the anti-GM lobby's agenda has hardly changed at all," he complains.

He defends the quality of the scientific work but adds: "It is surely time that we paid more attention to the impact of technology on societies, because if we do not, the rate of progress of technology will greatly outstrip our ability to handle its impacts."

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