ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

19 November 2002


Front page of Scotland's leading national newspaper


Crop trials must stop, say doctors

The Scotsman
Tuesday 19 November, 2002

SENIOR doctors have demanded an immediate halt to genetically modified crop trials in a move that piles pressure on the Scottish Executive to reconsider its controversial backing for the programme.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that insufficient care is being taken to protect public health and that there has been a lack of public consultation about crop trials despite the steady increase in the number of them.

The demand that there should be a moratorium on any further planting of GM crops on a commercial basis is made in a submission to the Scottish parliament's health committee.

The BMA's warning about the dangers of continuing with trials will be seen by anti-GM crop campaigners as giving powerful weight to their argument that the issue must now be reconsidered by Ross Finnie, the environment minister.

Robin Harper, the Scottish Green Party MSP, said last night: "I am delighted that the BMA have been prepared to take the same line that we have been pursuing for some time. It is a very welcome position and one that must lead to the trials being halted."

The BMA originally set out its case against the further planting of commercially produced GM crops in 1999, but its latest attack is made with the benefit of more information. It will be made tomorrow to the health committee, which is conducting an inquiry into GM crops.

The BMA points out that the number of crop trials has increased steadily, without public consultation, since their introduction in the early 1990s. Trials are being held at 178 sites in the UK, 17 are in Scotland.

The BMA was asked by the health committee if it believed the Executive should prevent GM crop trials from continuing on the grounds that the policy is against "the precautionary principle to allow them to continue". The BMA responded: "Yes. As with scientific matters, it can be difficult and timeconsuming to demonstrate safety to an acceptable standard. Safety is a relative matter and is generally based on the results of a robust and thorough search for possible harm.

"There has not yet been a robust and thorough search into the potentially harmful effects of GM foodstuffs on human health. On the basis of the precautionary principle, farm-scale trials should not be allowed to continue."

The BMA, which will be represented at the committee hearing by Dr Charles Saunders, a specialist in public health issues, will point out to the MSPs that, following public health disasters such as BSE and foot and mouth disease, public confidence in the scientific communityâos approach to agriculture has been undermined.

It adds: "Scientists, farmers and politicians need to re-establish public trust. Further research is required into the health and environmental effects of GMOs before they can be permitted to be freely cultivated.

"This may be executed in such a way as not to expose the population to possibly irreversible environmental risk, which may, in turn, have as yet unquantified public health implications."

The BMA refers in its document to worries about the issue of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance "markers" help identify GM plants and there is evidence that these genes may be transferred to non-GM plants and "possibly into pathogenic organisms causing human disease", it warns.

Underlining the responsibility of the parliament and the Executive to protect the nation's health, the BMA says it is disappointed that, to date, the Executive has decided not to include health monitoring of local populations as part of the farm-scale evaluation programme.

In March 2000, four farms, three in Aberdeenshire and one near Munlochy in the Black Isle, were given the go-ahead to plant GM winter oilseed rape. Almost immediately a protest group sprung up in the Black Isle and a 24-hour vigil was established near farmer Jamie Grants land.

Since then 17 sites in Scotland have been involved in the three-year research programme.

Some protesters have been more direct and the GM crops have been damaged by activists in Munlochy and Fife. In all 28 people have been charged since the trials were approved and one man, Donnie MacLeod, an organic farmer from Ardersier, spent ten days in jail for refusing to identify others taking part in a protest.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said the crop experiments currently taking place were final trials under a two-year evaluation scheme. The Executive had already adopted the "precautionary" approach as Mr Finnie had allowed the trials go ahead only after scientific evidence suggested there was no threat to health or the environment.

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