BMA calls for open-ended moratorium on commercial GM planting

The British Medical Association (BMA) has said there should be a moratorium on the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) crops until there is a scientific consensus on their long term environmental effects.

The BMA report, The Impact of Genetic Modification on Agriculture, Food and Health, warns that any adverse effects from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are likely to be irreversible. As we cannot yet know whether there are any serious risks to the environment or human health, the precautionary principle should apply, the report says.

The BMA report is an interim statement which will be reviewed as scientific evidence develops. The report reviews the available evidence on GMOs in the food chain, the regulatory process, environmental precautions and public health risks. The BMA is concerned that unless public confidence over GM crops and GM foods is considerably enhanced, there is a danger that medical biotechnological advances will be rejected by the public, at great cost to medical progress.

The BMA report has 19 recommendations for action. These include:

  • there should be an open-ended moratorium on the commercial planting of GM crops, until there is a scientific consensus on safety;
  • GMOs should not be released into the environment until the level of scientific certainty makes this acceptable;
  • there should be a ban on the use of antibiotic resistant marker genes in GM food as the risk to human health from antibiotic resistance is one of the major public health threats of the 21st century;
  • the Food Standards Agency should be established as a matter of urgency and given statutory powers to regulate GMO production
  • GM foodstuffs should be segregated at source to ensure traceability and the Food Standards Agency should consider banning mixed GM and non-GM products or insist that they are clearly labelled
  • because of the risk of cross-pollination, the standard separation distance between GM and non-GM crops should be reviewed
  • further research is needed on allergic reaction to GM products, the cumulative effect of GMOs in the environment and the food chain and the fate of transgenic DNA.
  • the UK Government should promote a review of the World Trade Agreement to ensure that sovereign governments, rather than companies, determine whether the importation of GM foods and seeds is restricted.

Commenting on the report, Sir William Asscher, Chairman of the BMA’s Board of Science and Education, says: “Once the GM genie is out of the bottle, the impact on the environment is likely to be irreversible. That is why the precautionary principle is so particularly important on this issue. It is even more serious than the licensing of medicines, which can, if necessary, be withdrawn. That is why the BMA is pressing for an open-ended moratorium until there is much greater scientific certainty about the risks and potential benefits of GMOs.”

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