5 February 2002

Fears for babies from GM milk

By Robert Uhlig, Food Correspondent

Bottle-fed babies could be undernourished if given genetically modified infant formula milk because of inadequate regulations and testing regimes for GM foods, leading scientists said yesterday.

After spending more than a year reviewing the health risks of GM food, a Royal Society working group called for tighter safety checks before all novel foods, including GM, are declared fit for human consumption.

Its report said that regulations governing foods made from GM plants were "rather piecemeal" and may contain "some important gaps and inconsistencies".

Although it found no reason to suspect the safety of GM food, the report said it was concerned that "genetic modification might lead to unpredicted and harmful changes in the nutritional status of the food".

Dr Eric Brunner, an epidemiologist at University College, London and one of the report's authors, said babies dependent solely on formula milk were particularly vulnerable to any nutritional changes.

He said there was a "potential concern that small changes to the nutritional content might have effects on infant bowel function.

Although infant formula is meant not to contain any GM ingredients, Food Standards Agency research published last week found that one in seven loaves, cakes, pies or pastries - some labelled as organic - had trace amounts of GM soya.

The Royal Society said it was concerned that much of the research into the safety aspects of GM foods was kept secret because it was commercially sensitive information.

It called for the current regulatory regime to be overhauled.

Adrian Bebb, of Friends of the Earth, said the scientific establishment had at last woken up to public concern about GM food.