Genetically Manipulated Food Update
British government advisor calls for four-year ban on "Frankenstein" food
LONDON - The British government's top scientific adviser has contradicted official policy on genetically-modified (GM) crops by backing a call for a four-year ban on their commercial release, a report said Thursday.
Chief Scientific Adviser Robert May has said that GM crops should not go on sale until major trials are completed at the end of 2002, The Independent newspaper said.
His views -- expressed in a letter to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds -- matches those of the government's environment watchdog, English Nature, which is concerned about the effect of herbicide-resistant crops on wildlife.
But Prime Minister Tony Blair and his ministers in the Labour administration have insisted no mandatory ban is required, preferring instead to use a voluntary agreement with biotech companies.
The RSPB called upon the government to heed the advice of its own scientists.
"Public confidence in GM food is already fragile and any suggestion that the government is ignoring its own scientific advisers over environmental safety might have damaging consequences," director of conservation Dr Mark Avery told the Independent.
The UK's four biggest supermarket chains; Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Safeways, have already removed all products containing GM substances from their shelves, amid a public outcry against so-called "Frankenstein" food.
And -- GM Corn Kills 44% of Monarch Butterfly Larvae, Stunts the Remaining 56%Genetically engineered corn, which the Canadian government approved for widespread use saying it is has no serious environmental impacts, is so loaded with ``natural pesticides'' that its pollen can kill the larvae of the celebrated monarch butterfly, according to a U.S. research team.
In experiments described in the journal Nature Today, John Losey and his colleagues at Cornell University found that 44% of monarch larvae died when they were reared on milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from genetically engineered corn. The survivors ate less and grew more slowly than larvae fed leaves dusted with pollen from normal corn.
The experiments tried to replicate in the lab what likely occurs on corn fields and roadside ditches across North America as pollen from genetically engineered corn settles on weeds. Corn pollen can travel at least 60 metres on the wind and could be ingested by a number of so-called ``non-target organisms'' such as the monarch caterpillars, which live on milkweed.
``These results have potentially profound implications for the conservation of monarch butterflies,'' write Losey and his colleagues, noting that genetically modified (GM) corn is already planted on vast tracts of land and projected to increase. Close to 400,000 hectares of Southern Ontario and Quebec will be planted with GM corn this year and more than 2.8 million hectares in the central United States.
It is ``imperative'' that more research be done on the environmental risks posed by the use of biotechnology in agriculture, the Cornell scientists say, echoing a sentiment shared by many Canadian observers.
``There should be long-term environment impact studies done before these crops are allowed on the market,'' says Michelle Swenarchuk of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, which is pushing for much tougher evaluation and regulation of genetically engineered crops. ``You'd think that would be pretty basic, but not for our government, which has decreed these things are safe without ever doing such studies.''
The gene-altered corn, which exudes a poison fatal to corn-boring caterpillars, was introduced in 1996 and now accounts for more than one-quarter of the United States' corn crop - much of it in the path of the monarch's annual migration.
Pollen from the plants can blow onto nearby milkweed plants, the exclusive food upon which young monarch larvae feed, and get eaten by the tiger-striped caterpillars.
In laboratory studies conducted at Cornell University, the engineered pollen killed nearly half of those young before they transformed into the brilliant orange, black and white butterflies well known throughout North America.
Several scientists yesterday expressed concern that if the new study's results are correct, then monarchs - which already face ecological pressures but have so far managed to hold their own - may soon find themselves on the endangered-species list. Other butterflies may also be at risk.
Why have the genetic manipulation companies been allowed to go so far without having to prove the safety of GM foods? What can be done to preserve your safety and that of your children? Tell your opinion to The Progress Report:
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