Animal feed for cows, pigs and chickens containing genetically modified
crops is about to go on the market, raising fears in Whitehall of another
BSE-style health crisis.
Government officials, environmental groups and scientists believe that
genetically modified DNA from the animal feed could pass though the food
chain to humans, with unknown effects.
They also say that consumers will be denied the opportunity to avoid GM
food, as there are no laws saying that meat or milk containing the product
must be labelled as such.
Earlier this month, Monsanto, the biotechnology giant, applied for
government approval to sell two new GM ingredients to animal feed
producers in Britain. Its applications, one for GM cotton and the other
for GM corn for specified use in animal fodder, were considered by
Insiders have told the Independent on Sunday that officials at the
Ministry of Agriculture (Maff) animal feed unit, which dealt with the BSE
crisis, were "very worried indeed" when the applications came before the
Maff approval committee.
They called for more "toxicology tests" on Monsanto's GM cotton and have
privately expressed fears about unknown implications of using it as feed.
"Maff officials wanted full toxicology tests on the cotton," said a source
from the meeting. "They were very concerned and agitated. One of them was
virtually shaking. They are not happy and they have been saying so
Sources close to the committee have confirmed that Monsanto is about to be
given the green light to sell GM maize to animal feed producers in
Some scientists, however, say that by the time the meat and milk is
consumed by humans, the DNA will have broken down and only infinitesimal
quantities will remain.
"The truth is that no one has any idea whether the GM organisms fed to
animals pose dangers to human health," said Patrick Holden, director of
the Soil Association. "But surely the very least the consumer should have
is the right to choose whether they consume these products or not."
The crisis comes in the week the Government is to announce the setting up
of a Food Standards Agency, which will preside over food safety, including
that of GM food. Supermarkets, pubs, and shops will all be expected to pay
a flat rate of #90 each in a food "poll tax" under plans which will go out
for consultation this week.
Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, recently said at an organic food
conference that people should be able to choose whether to eat GM food.
Already, two varieties of Monsanto's genetically modified corn and soya
have been approved for general consumption by humans and animals in
Europe. It is not known whether they are yet being used in animal feed.
Nervous farmers, who had to destroy generations of cattle because of the
BSE crisis, have begun asking feed companies whether the processed food
contains GM ingredients.
A spokesman for the National Farmers Union said: "Farmers are asking what
is in the feed; it's a big problem. There is certainly concern among
farmers who don't want to use GM crops in their feed."
At the same time, the Government is funding new research into genetically
modifying the grass that cows and sheep graze on. The scientists in charge
admit that there are public concerns about feeding GM products to cattle
and say that a vital part of their work is assessing potential risks.
"We are doing some work on genetically engineering grasses. We are looking
at changing their digestibility," said a spokesman for the Institute for
Grassland and Environmental Research. "We can't theoretically see problems
with feeding genetically manipulated crops to humans, but we have to
realise that the public is worried."
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