GeneWatch PR: Royal Society Endorses GeneWatch UK Concerns on Regulation of GM Foods

For immediate release 6th February 2002

GeneWatch UK has welcomed the Royal Society’s report on the safety of GM plants for human foods published on February 4th (available at (1). In 1999, GeneWatch UK’s Director, Dr Sue Mayer, co-authored a paper in the journal Nature (2) which highlighted the shortcomings in the systems of safety assessment of GM foods and kick-started the debate over ‘substantial equivalence’ (3).

The Royal Society report recognised that the criteria for assessment according to the principle of ‘substantial equivalence’ should be defined clearly and that new techniques were needed to identify potentially harmful changes in GM plants.

"We are delighted that the Royal Society has endorsed GeneWatch’s analysis of the shortcomings of the GM food safety assessment system. Until proper procedures are put in place, no more GM foods should be placed on the market," said Dr Sue Mayer.

However, Dr Mayer was more critical of the Royal Society’s conclusion that existing GM foods already on the market were safe.

"Because GM foods already on the market have not had an adequate assessment, we cannot agree with the Royal Society that existing GM foods are inevitably safe. This cannot be a scientific conclusion and it seems that the Royal Society has been unwilling to take their findings to their logical conclusion for fear of upsetting the biotechnology industry. No evidence of harm does not equal safety and no monitoring of the use and effects of GM foods has been undertaken," said Dr Mayer.

"Furthermore, although the Royal Society were right to point out that babies may be more at risk from potential allergens in GM foods, they were wrong to imply that baby foods which are currently available will not contain GM ingredients. The European approvals of GM soya and maize apply to all food uses so these could be used in baby foods. However, many baby food manufacturers have voluntarily removed GM ingredients from their products and they would have to be labelled if they contained over 1% of GM ingredients."

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For information please contact:

Dr Sue Mayer on 01298 871898

Notes to editors:

  1. Genetically modified plants for food use and human health – an update. The Royal Society, London, February 2002.
  2. Millstone, E, Brunner, E & Mayer, S. (1999) Beyond ‘substantial equivalence’, Nature 401: 525-526.
  3. Substantial equivalence is the concept behind all the GM food safety testing worldwide. If the chemical composition of the GM food is shown to be generally the same as the non-GM equivalent, it is deemed ‘substantially equivalent’ and therefore safe. However, there is no defined list of what has to be measured and the system does not look for unintended effects, one of the major concerns that scientists have about GM food safety.

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