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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 13:04 GMT
Doctors review GM crop evidence
GM crops protester
GM crop trials have aroused strong passions
The British Medical Association (BMA) is looking again at research into genetically modified food four years after it raised safety doubts.

In 1999 it examined whether GM foods were safe to eat and published an interim report which raised concerns about their long-term effects on human health.

The BMA is now set to revisit the issue with a meeting planned later this year involving experts in GM science.

A second report could then be released if sufficient new evidence is found.

A vocal proponent of GM and a BMA member Sir Peter Lachman said it was time for a review, adding: "I don't think there's really any reason to think that GM foods as a class are dangerous to human health."

Anti-GM lobby

Since the report was published the main piece of research that first raised the BMA's concerns has been discredited.

GM crops
BMA has called for GM trials to be halted
But its report has continued to be used by the anti-GM lobby to back their campaign.

It was cited as one the reasons that the Zambian government decided not to accept flour milled from GM wheat to feed their starving population.

The BBC's science correspondent Pallab Ghosh has discovered that one scientific group, called Sense about Science, has been urging the BMA to review the report.

The group say they expect any updated version to "be less prone to be misinterpreted by pressure groups".

'Precautionary measure'

But those pressure groups would see any review as part of an orchestrated pro-GM campaign ahead of a decision on commercial growing of GM crops later this year.

I think that food, whether it's brought about by conventional plant breeding or by the insertion of genes is really very much the same

Sir Peter Lachman
In November last year, the BMA called for the trials of GM crops to be halted as a "precautionary measure" to safeguard public health.

The professional medical body represents more than 80% of British doctors.

In a submission to the Scottish parliament, the BMA said: "The concerns doctors have about the impact genetically modified foodstuffs may have on our long-term health are serious enough to warrant a precautionary approach."

'More science'

Sir Peter Lachman, a professor immunology at Cambridge University, said there had been "a lot more science" since the report was published and a review was needed.

He said there was no case, as some people have suggested, to test GM foods in a similar way to new medicines.

"I think that food, whether it's brought about by conventional plant breeding or by the insertion of genes is really very much the same," he added.

He said the same case against change could have been made in the past, when hybrid varieties of crops were created.

See also:

30 Dec 02 | Politics
29 Nov 02 | Politics
20 Nov 02 | Scotland
11 Sep 02 | Scotland
16 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
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