UK Gov't to Fund Feeding Tests of GE Foods to Humans

UK Gov't to Fund Feeding Tests of GE Foods to Humans
May 23 1999 BRITAIN

Ministry to fund GM food tests on humans
by Paul Nuki and Steve Farrar

THE government is to assess the potential risks posed by genetically
modified foods by funding experiments on humans, despite declaring the foods
safe last week.

The human trials, for which the protocols are already being prepared, will
start next year in Newcastle and are funded by the Ministry of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Food.

They are thought to be the first of their kind undertaken anywhere in the
world and have been given the go-ahead by Whitehall officials, who are
concerned that genes from GM crops might have an impact on human health.

As The Sunday Times revealed last month, one potential risk being researched
by government scientists is that the bacteria responsible for meningitis and
other diseases might pick up antibiotic resistance from GM crops that are
already being grown in Spain and America. The human trials are being
organised despite public assurances from ministers that GM foods are safe.
"We are not going to introduce these foods on an experimental basis," Jeff
Rooker, the food safety minister, told the Commons on Thursday. "The public
are not going to be used as guinea pigs."

Plans for new trials do not sit comfortably with such statements. Not only
will they involve human volunteers but the GM foods they are to be fed have
also been licensed already - up to 60% of processed foods on sale in Britain
are thought to have a GM content.

The human trials, expected to start next year, will involve patients at a
Newcastle hospital and are being organised by Professor Harry Gilbert, a
biologist at Newcastle University.

Those taking part have all had unrelated operations on their digestive
systems, creating a "window" through which scientists can monitor the food
that passes through their intestines.

By feeding them a normal but carefully monitored diet containing GM food,
the researchers hope to measure whether the new genes contained in the food
could survive long enough to jump to bacteria in the human gut.

The trials follow a warning by British government scientists that two
crops - Monsanto Roundup Ready cotton and Novartis maize - contain specific
antibiotic resistance genes that could theoretically jump to the bacteria in
the mouth that cause meningitis and the sexually transmitted disease

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