Genetic Foods Could Bring Health Benefits

Patricia Reaney
February 28, 2000

EDINBURGH, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Genetically modified food could revolutionise Third World healthcare and even help prevent some cancers, a major international conference into the controversial new technology heard on Monday. The three-day meeting in Edinburgh is the first international forum bringing together scientists, regulators, environmentalists and consumer activists in the hopes of reaching a consensus on safety standards for GM food.

Activists have staged high-profile protests, trashing experimental GM crops and last week boarding a ship laden with GM soya, forcing it to abandon attempts to unload in Britain.

But scientists said the technology could save lives.

"Edible vaccines and GM foods will cause a healthcare revolution in countries not as well off as my own," said Professor Marc Weksler of Cornell University in the U.S.

GM vaccines and food could prevent measles, which kills one million children a year, he said. They could also help to overcome vitamin deficiencies linked to blindness, cancers and immune system functions and to eliminate allergies.

"GM foods offer tremendous opportunities to prevent infectious disease, certain cancers and malnutrition," he added.

Critics say the effects on people, animals and the environment should be studied before the technology is used in food and released into the environment.


Professor Hans Gunter Gassen, of Darmstadt Technical University in Germany, said scientists should tread carefully although he knew of no claims that GM products are unhealthy.

"I am not saying this is dangerous. IÕm saying we should be careful," the professor of biochemistry warned.

Others were more enthusiastic.

"Nature has been doing genetic engineering since the beginning of life," said Professor Francisco Bolivar Zapata, the president of the National Academy of Sciences in Mexico.

"I believe these tools are natural and extremely important for the production of healthy food," he added.

GM technology is already used in 100 vaccines and pharmaceutical products.

"There is no doubt that when we get a vaccine for HIV/AIDS it is going to be genetically engineered. My claim is that genetically engineered rice will bring similar benefit," said Professor Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States.

Outside the conference, opponents of GM foods staged protests and accused U.S. regulators of ignoring health risks.

"The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deliberately unleashed a host of potentially harmful foods onto American dinner tables in blatant violation of U.S. law," said Steven Druker, an American attorney who is suing the FDA to obtain mandatory testing and labeling of GM food.


Return to the home page of Better Foods