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Monday, 4 December, 2000, 21:16 GMT
GM 'poison' allegation denied
GM Rapeseed
GM trials have proved controversial
Government officials have denied an allegation that genetically modified crops on trial in the UK may contain an enzyme which could threaten human health.

Dr Mae-Wan Ho of the Institute of Science in Society said that an enzyme in the crops had been proved to damage rats' kidneys by causing cells to die.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions said the enzyme was not present in the crops in UK trials.

He said that "exhaustive" tests had been carried out to ensure that the trials would not hurt the health of humans, animals or the environment.

Edinburgh Sheriff Court
Four are on trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court
Dr Ho is in Edinburgh to give evidence at the trial of four protesters accused of destroying crops at a farm in Midlothian.

Mark Ballard, Alan Tolmie, and James MacKenzie, all from Edinburgh, and Matthew Herbert, from St Andrews, have been on trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court charged with vandalising crops at Boghall Farm, near Penicuik.

At a media conference organised by the Scottish Green Party, Dr Ho said that the barnase enzyme that makes pollen and seeds sterile was present in the crops being trialled in Britain.

She said that experiments in Germany had already shown it could damage rats' kidneys by causing cells to die.

The enzyme is used in so-called "terminator technology" preventing reproduction and cross contamination, although Dr Ho questioned its effectiveness.

She said she was angry that the UK Government's own advisory committee on releases to the environment had apparently begun consultations on the technology after the crops were planted.

The DETR spokesman said that it was the barnase gene and not the enzyme which was present in a few oil seed rape crops currently being trialled.

He said that where the enzyme would be poisonous, the gene was not harmful.

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See also:

19 May 00 | Scotland
Campaigners cleared over GM protest
03 Aug 00 | Scotland
New GM trial sites
20 Jul 00 | Scotland
New GM trial proposed
16 Jul 00 | UK
GM protestors invade field
20 Jun 00 | Scotland
Flaw discovered in GM crop trial
09 Jun 00 | Scotland
'No harm' from GM crops
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