Food Law News - UK - 2000

17 May 2000: GM FOOD - Presence of Genetically Modified Crop in UK Presents No Human Health Risk Says Chairman

FSA Press Release (2000/0011), 17 May 2000

Presence of Genetically Modified Crop in UK Presents No Human Health Risk Says Chairman

Reports that a small proportion of oilseed rape, grown in the UK and other European Union countries, in the past year contain low levels of a genetically modified variety poses no added risk to public health said Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency. The seeds were produced in Canada in 1998 and around one per cent of them could be affected.

Sir John Krebs said: 'The variety of oilseed rape in question, Monsanto's RT73, was fully assessed for safety by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes in 1995 and cleared for food use in 1996. The Committee concluded that the oil was as safe for food use as that obtained from conventional crops. The oil was subsequently notified under the EC Novel Foods Regulations and drew no objections from other Member States. The oil can consequently be freely traded within the European Community.

'The oil from the GM variety, which is indistinguishable from oil obtained from non-modified oilseed rape, does not require labelling since neither DNA or protein will be present in the refined oil. Nevertheless, when consumers buy a product which is described as coming from GM-free sources, they need to have complete confidence that the claims made by manufacturers are true. Anything less will undermine consumer choice. I therefore welcome steps being taken to ensure seed purity and monitor standards.'

The Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs (ACAF) has been asked for its comments and advice on the implications of feeding the RT73 variety and its by-products to farm livestock. The Government has also announced today a package of new steps relating to seed purity. These include pressing for concerted international action to seek new legal standards for seed purity, testing of seed imports and working with the industry on a Code of Practice.

The ACNFP assessment of Monsanto's RT73 (or GT73) oilseed rape oil was published in their 1995 annual report. Data supporting the application to the ACNFP have been deposited in the British Library (BL SUP 11097).

ACAF's terms of reference are 'To advise the Food Standards Agency, the Minister of Agriculture, Ministers of the Scottish Executive, the National Assembly for Wales and the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs (Northern Ireland) on the safety and use of animal feeds and feeding practices, with particular emphasis on protecting human health and with reference to new technical developments. In carrying out its functions, the Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs will liase with other relevant advisory committees as appropriate'.

The RT73 line had been approved in the UK for experimental field trials (Part B consent under EC Directive 90/220). The seed stocks in question were produced in Canada in 1998, and appear to have been affected by growing too close to Monsanto Roundup Ready rape seed.

Around 9,000 hectares were sown with the affected stocks in the UK in 1999, and around 4,700 ha have been sown in spring 2000. Around 500,000 hectares of oilseed rape are grown annually in this country.

A study has been set up by MAFF on seed sourcing, and the risk that GM presence may occur in other seed supplies. DETR are introducing testing of seed imports under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. MAFF and DETR officials have met the UK seeds sector and urged them to take industry-wide voluntary action to check sources of seed and monitor GM content. The industry are responding positively to this request. DETR have referred this information to the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment which considers that there is no risk to environmental safety.

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