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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK


GM debate refuses to go away

The issue of genetically-modified (GM) food has rarely been out of the headlines in the past year, prompting fierce debate.

April 1998 The frozen food retailer Iceland announces that none of its own-label produce would contain GM ingredients.

8 June Prince Charles calls for a public debate on the merits of allowing genetically engineered food to be grown in Britain.

27 June More than 1,300 schools in six council areas have taken genetically modified foods off their menus in the past few months, it is revealed.

[ image: Controversial research at the Rowett Institute]
Controversial research at the Rowett Institute
8 July The UK Government's wildlife advisory body English Nature calls for a three-year moratorium on the commercial growing of genetically-modified crops, saying they could pose a serious risk to wildlife.

21 July Organic farmer Guy Watson loses his Court of Appeal bid to halt trials of genetically-modified maize crop in a field next to his farm.

10 August World In Action programme claims that research by Dr Arpad Pusztai shows genetically-modified potatoes can damage the immune systems of rats.

12 August Dr Pusztai is suspended from his post at the Rowett Research Institute after his bosses said his evidence was misleading.

1 September New Europe-wide regulations take effect, requiring foods known to contain GM ingredients to be labelled.

Food under the microscope
22 October An Audit Committee inquiry finds no evidence that the potatoes used in Dr Pusztai's tests affected the growth, organ development or immune function of the rats that were fed them.

3 February 1999 Labour MP Joan Walley claims that an outbreak of a fatal disease that infected 5,000 people, killing 37 and leaving 1,500 permanently ill, was linked to genetically-modified food.

[ image: Risk to American butterflies]
Risk to American butterflies
9 February Conservative leader William Hague condemns Prime Minister Tony Blair for failing to put a moratorium on the sale of GM foods.

12 February Twenty one scientists from 12 nations declare that they have looked at Dr Pusztai's original results and found that there was indeed cause for concern. And an Aberdeen pathologist, Stanley Ewen, independently repeated Dr Pusztai's research and found that lectins from genetically-modified potatoes did leave their signature in the stomachs of rats.

15 February The Government launches a counter-offensive on GM foods, saying that Tony Blair ate it himself and insisting that all products on the supermarket shelves were safe.

16 February Report in The Guardian that Lord Sainsbury, the billionaire supermarket tycoon and Science Minister, controls the worldwide patent rights over a key gene currently used in the genetic modification process.

17 February The Government declares a moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops until it was sure there was no risk to wildlife.

21 February An NOP poll for the Independent on Sunday shows 60% unhappy with the way the Government has dealt with GM foods, and 68% worried about eating it.

24 February The Local Government Association votes to halt the use of GM food in schools and care homes for five years.

[ image: Wildlife danger or saviour?]
Wildlife danger or saviour?
15 March Marks & Spencer announces it is taking all GM foods off its shelves.

17 March Sainsbury supermarket chain announce it is removing GM ingredients from its own brand foods.

18 March New labelling laws are announced which will mean restaurant diners will be informed if their meal contains GM soya or maize.

20 April A High Court judge refuses to impose a ban on protesters who uprooted GM crops because they may be able to defend their positions.

27 April Tesco, Unilever, Birds Eye Walls and Van den Bergh Foods UK announce they will stop using genetically-modified ingredients.

7 May RHM, makers of Bisto gravy, Sharwoods sauces and Hovis breads, say they would start using non-GM soya and maize in their products.

8 May Northern Foods, one of Britain's biggest food producers decide to ban GM ingredients.

17 May The British Medical Association warns that it was far too early to be sure that GM foods were safe.

18 May A group of scientist from the Royal Society, an independent scientific academy, criticise the experiments by Dr Pusztai on genetically-modified potatoes as 'flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis'.

19 May According to research published in the magazine Nature Today, pollen from genetically-modified maize in the US could possibly kill off a species of butterfly.

21 May A report by the government's chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson, and chief scientific adviser, Robert May, says there is no current evidence to suggest that genetically-modified food technologies are inherently harmful. Two government bodies set up to look at the issue.

27 May The Nuffield Council on Bioethics - a science watchdog composed of scientists, lawyers, philosophers and environmentalists, declares a 'compelling moral imperative' for research into new GM crops to combat world hunger.

1 June Prince Charles poses 10 questions he says need to be answered on GM food in a national newspaper article.

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Internet Links

New Scientist - Living in a GM World


Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food - Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes

Greenpeace UK

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