- The Ministry of Agriculture has privately
admitted that it has no idea how many genetically modified (GM) crops are
being used in animal feed, despite warnings from its own advisers that
this could lead to the creation of "superbugs" resistant to antibiotics.
- A confidential briefing note from civil
servants to Food Safety Minister, Jeff Rooker, seen by the Independent
on Sunday, says: "It is not possible to know the extent to which GM
material is being used in animal feed in the UK."
- On top of this, the Government also intends
to give its approval for US company Monsanto to sell GM cotton to animal
food producers throughout Europe, in a crucial Brussels vote this week,
despite further warnings from advisers.
- A letter written last week by Dr Paul
Burrows, head of biotechnology controls at the Department of the Environment,
says: "[The UK] will be content with these products [GM Cotton] in
terms of safety to the UK environment but will still have reservations
about their use in animal feed due to the antibiotic resistance marker
genes." Some GM crops which could be in the feed have been manipulated
by scientists to be resistant to antibiotics. Scientists and environmental
campaigners fear that the antibiotic resistance could be passed to animals,
then the humans who eat them. Civil servants have warned it could create
bacteria immune to antibiotics.
- It was fears of just such a superbug
which led Brussels, with UK government backing, to recently ban five antibiotics
used to treat animals. Recent random tests in Worcester showed that GM
crops have been creeping into the animal foods from America, where they
are not grown separately from ordinary plants. Food campaigners want nationwide
tests to discover the extent of the problem.
- The revelations will shock farmers who
have been seeking reassurances from ministers about GM crops in animal
food, following the BSE crisis. At present, there is no legal requirement
for animal feed which contains genetically altered material to be labelled,
so there is no way of knowing how much of it is being fed to cows, pigs
and chickens. Following the outcry from farmers over BSE, the Ministry
of Agriculture set up a committee of experts on animal foodstuffs. Its
remit has now been widened to cover use of GM crops in animal food.
- "This is the first time something
like this has been proposed," said Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher, a geneticist
conducting the research. "The Government is making decisions in an
almost improvisational manner."