Modified crops 'out of control'
By Marie Woolf, Political Correspondent
THE MINISTRY of Agriculture has privately admitted that it has no idea how
many genetically modified (GM) crops are being used in animal feed,
despite warnings from its own advisers that this could lead to the
creation of "superbugs" resistant to antibiotics.
A confidential briefing note from civil servants to Food Safety Minister,
Jeff Rooker, seen by the Independent on Sunday, says: "It is not possible
to know the extent to which GM material is being used in animal feed in
On top of this, the Government also intends to give its approval for US
company Monsanto to sell GM cotton to animal food producers throughout
Europe, in a crucial Brussels vote this week, despite further warnings
A letter written last week by Dr Paul Burrows, head of biotechnology
controls at the Department of the Environment, says: "[The UK] will be
content with these products [GM Cotton] in terms of safety to the UK
environment but will still have reservations about their use in animal
feed due to the antibiotic resistance marker genes." Some GM crops which
could be in the feed have been manipulated by scientists to be resistant
to antibiotics. Scientists and environmental campaigners fear that the
antibiotic resistance could be passed to animals, then the humans who eat
them. Civil servants have warned it could create bacteria immune to
It was fears of just such a superbug which led Brussels, with UK
government backing, to recently ban five antibiotics used to treat
animals. Recent random tests in Worcester showed that GM crops have been
creeping into the animal foods from America, where they are not grown
separately from ordinary plants. Food campaigners want nationwide tests to
discover the extent of the problem.
The revelations will shock farmers who have been seeking reassurances from
ministers about GM crops in animal food, following the BSE crisis. At
present, there is no legal requirement for animal feed which contains
genetically altered material to be labelled, so there is no way of knowing
how much of it is being fed to cows, pigs and chickens. Following the
outcry from farmers over BSE, the Ministry of Agriculture set up a
committee of experts on animal foodstuffs. Its remit has now been widened
to cover use of GM crops in animal food.
"This is the first time something like this has been proposed," said Dr
Ricarda Steinbrecher, a geneticist conducting the research. "The
Government is making decisions in an almost improvisational manner."
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