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The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Today's report warns us not to replace healthy eating with marketing gimmicks"
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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
GM foods under fire again
Shoppers in supermarket
Many foods are genetically modified - but are they good for us ?
By consumer affairs correspondent Nicola Carslaw

A report published today claims that new genetically modified products are unlikely to benefit the public.

Scientists say they are developing GM foods such as low-fat chips and tomatoes that can help prevent cancer.

But the campaign groups which have compiled today's report say it's just industry hype.

Throughout the biotech industry, scientists are keen to stress that they are investing millions on improving food quality.

Some are hoping to remove the allergen in peanuts or are trying to engineer less fattening chips.

They are also working on developing fruit and vegetables which are genetically altered so they are high in substances that will reduce the risk of cancer or heart disease.


Tin of GM tomato puree
Report says producers have exaggerated the advantages of GM foods
But a report out today questions whether there is a significant consumer benefit to such developments.

The research, called Biotech - The Next Generation, is published by the campaign groups, Genewatch UK, and the Food Commission.

It says that GM scientists are overstating the benefits to consumers of their work.

Sue Dibbs, of the Food Commission, says: "In a desperate attempt to reverse its failing fortunes, the biotech industry wants to convince us that there will be real consumer advantages to GM foods. But, we could find no significant evidence to support this claim."

She believes that GM is unlikely to play any significant role in providing healthier diets, either in the developing or developed world.

The report's main findings are that the next generation of GM crops will

  • just make food processing easier and cheaper - for example by providing oils and starches for the food industry;
  • provide alternative ingredients for use in animal feed and for non-food businesses such as cosmetics and plastics industries
  • raise new safety concerns for regulators

Suspicious consumers

The industry itself acknowledges it does need some sort of breakthrough - a so-called healthy GM food - to win over suspicious consumers.

Tescos product on supermarket shelves
Supermarkets have withdrawn GM foods - but producers say they can deliver health benefits
It admits that it does indeed make most of its money from farmers, protecting crops from weeds, disease and insects.

But it insists that scientists' ultimately want food improvement to be their goal - and it believes new products that will benefit consumers will be on the market in around five years' time.

However, today's report calls for governments to support diets with proven benefits - not scientifically altered products that raise more questions than answers. And the authors believe that even though consumers want food with added benefits, in a climate still suspicious of GM, their report will be seen as convincing.

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See also:

12 Apr 00 | AudioVideo
GM producers will not be liable
07 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Demand for 'rational' GM debate
24 Jan 00 | Business
EU and US set for GM food clash
12 Jan 00 | UK Politics
'GM safe' says food agency boss
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