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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 14:03 GMT
FoE criticises organic 'risk' warning

Tomato testing GM foods have provoked a widespread debate

A pressure group has hit back at a leading scientist's warning that organic farming poses considerable risks to human health.

Friends of the Earth Scotland also rejected Professor John Hillman's assertion that the debate on GM foods had become obscured by "unhelpful and unjustified language".

FoE Scotland director Kevin Dunion said: "Professor Hillman may believe that he is reopening the debate. Sadly, however, there has been very little real public debate on this issue.

Organic methods are one way we can reduce our farmer's dependency on environmentally damaging chemicals
Kevin Dunion, FoE
"This is no more evident than in Scotland where we have been forced to petition the Scottish Parliament in order for it to even begin examining its clearly devolved powers on GM let alone exercise them."

Professor Hillman is director of the world-renowned Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), at Invergowrie, Dundee.

'Faecal contamination'

His Director's Report is regarded as one of the most comprehensive yearly reviews of global and UK trends influencing agricultural, biological and environmental sciences.

In it, he wrote: "Organic farming raises risks of faecal contamination not only of food but also of waterways, food poisoning, high levels of natural toxins and allergens, contamination by copper and sulphur-containing fungicides, production of diseased food, low productivity, and creation of reservoirs of pests and diseases.

Prof. Hillman Prof. Hillman: "Wide consultation"
"Cars, cigarettes, stepladders and playing sports are dangerous - eating GM food is not.

"Deliberately pejorative language is obscuring the debate and encouraging people to pre-judge the issues before they have heard all the facts.

"Obvious lessons to be drawn from the GM debate include the requirement for wide consultation with the support of authoritative literature, effective and non-pejorative food labelling and testing of all foodstuffs, research to address gaps in current knowledge and absolute transparency and open access provided to the public and politicians."

'Detrimental impacts'

But Mr Dunion responded: "Unlike the testing of the risk from GM foods, which remain under development, we are already starting to see evidence of the unexpected and detrimental impacts of GM crops on non-target species.

"Before GM crops ever reach the consumer's dinner table they are already beginning to cause environmental concern.

GM protest GM foods: The debate goes on
"Along with other farming practices, such as insect pest management schemes, organic methods are one way we can reduce our farmer's dependency on environmentally damaging chemicals.

"On the other hand many of the current herbicide-tolerant GM crops now coming on stream will do nothing less than continue to keep farmers forever on the chemical treadmill."

The Scottish Parliament's Transport and Environment Committee is considering FoE's 5,000-signature petition on Wednesday.

The document calls for the parliament to not to allow the release of GM crops into the Scottish environment unless it can be proven to be "safe for the environment and human health".

Montreal conference

The Scottish Crop Research Institute, based at Invergowrie, is a major international centre for research into agricultural, horticultural and industrial crops.

Last week, a UN conference in Montreal agreed rules governing the trade in genetically-modified food products.

Arpad Pusztai Arpad Pusztai: Experiements discredited
The Biodiversity Protocol states that shipments of GM commodities should bear labels saying they "may contain" genetically-modified organisms and are not intended for intentional introduction into the environment.

In Scotland, much of the debate has revolved around the Aberdeen scientist Dr Arpad Puztai, who said GM foods may be dangerous to human health.

His experiments in which he fed genetically-modified potatoes to rats were later discredited.

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See also:
03 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Organic food 'proven' healthier
29 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
GM deal finds favour all round
29 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Controls agreed on GM imports
15 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
The Pusztai affair - science loses
06 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Charity warns against GM seeds

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