ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Regulation, Law & Economics
The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.
Thursday March 23, 2000 

Genetically Modified Food Sales 'Dead' In EU Until Safety Certain, 
Says Consultant

By Pat Phibbs

PHILADELPHIA--Sales of genetically engineered foods are 'dead' in Europe until manufacturers can convince consumers that the benefits outweigh any potential risk, a food safety consultant to the European Union said
March 21.

Bevan Moseley, a molecular geneticist, disputed the safety of genetically modified food during a debate between the Society of Toxicology and European Society of Toxicology (EUROTOX) held during SOT's meeting March

Moseley represented EUROTOX. He also chairs the Working Group on Novel Foods in the European Union's Scientific Committee on Food.

Moseley opposed the idea that traditional tests, which show genetically modified foods are as safe as their traditional counterparts, are an appropriate way to assess the foods' safety.

Ian Munro, who represented SOT, argued in favor of traditional tests.

SOT asked both men to focus on food safety, not ecological issues that also are part of the debate.

Unexpected Problems?

"I support the technology," Moseley asserted. However, unless manufacturers conduct multigenerational safety studies that examine a multitude of possible risks, unexpected problems may occur, he said.

Currently, companies that develop GM foods test the toxin and allergen levels of the new food as well as the safety of the genetic trait they are implanting, Moseley said. If both are safe, the companies assume the
new food must be safe, he added.

However, it is not that simple, Moseley continued. Creating genetic variations within a crop is not as specific a process as consumers are led to believe, he said. When companies introduce a genetic trait into a plant,
they do not know where it will be added in the plant's DNA, so they do not know what effects it may cause, he said. Further, part of a transferred gene may be "lost," possibly causing later unforeseen effects, he said.

This means companies must conduct tests to detect unanticipated problems, Moseley said. Because he is not a toxicologist, Moseley said he did not know exactly which tests are needed. However, he said, "we have to be

If companies are not prepared, problems may emerge, and "that would kill the whole science of genetically modified food," Moseley said. "I don't want that to happen. ... The public won't forgive us."

Moseley described several problems companies face as they try to convince the public, particularly the European public, to buy genetically modified foods.

'Burned' by Mad Cow Disease

First, Europeans do not trust scientists who tell them food is safe, because in the early 1990s scientists assured them British beef was safe, Moseley said. Since then 50 people have died and 12 people have been
diagnosed with a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which has been associated with beef contaminated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly called "mad cow disease."

"We don't know if this is the tip of the iceberg or most of the iceberg," Moseley said. That experience has made European consumers worried about chronic illnesses they fear they may contract from food, he said.

Genetically modified foods benefit farmers, but they offer "no perceivable benefit" to consumers, Moseley argued.

Consumers would see a benefit if GM foods were cheaper or the quality significantly better, but most GM foods do not offer such advantages, he said.

Developing "functional foods" might offer such advantages, Moseley said. He referred to foods that would be modified to have more vitamins or antioxidants. However, developing such foods will involve inserting
multiple genetic variations into a plant, he said. Today, most GM foods involve only a single genetic modification, he added.

As companies move toward these more complicated endeavors, Moseley said, he would be "very surprised" if they did not create inadvertent, unexpected health problems in these foods.

For many more such statements of concern by scientist: Statements by Scientists on the dangers of genetically engineered food


See also the ngin  links page for links to sites with articles by scientists or with summaries of research on GE. Some of these items are in the articles section on this site

For more information on GM foods see the ngin guide to avoiding GM foods