4th, 2005) – Echoes of recent GM maize affairs continue to rumble at
Westminster: written questions to ministers have related both to the inadvertent
sale of Bt10 maize, which had not received formal approval for human use (see
New York Times below for background information), and to MON863, about which
allegations were made that information had not been disclosed to the proper
authorities (see CropGen highlights archive: Death rattle of a scare story?).
Bt 10 maize
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what quantities of Bt 10 maize have been imported into the UK; over what period; and what quantities she estimates have been consumed by (a) animals and (b) humans. 
Caroline Flint: The exact quantity of Bt 10 maize imported into the United Kingdom is not known. It is estimated that up to 0.025 per cent., of the 2001-04 United States of America maize harvests may have contained Bt 10 maize and imports into the EU during this period may have contained Bt 10 maize at this level. The European food industry has stated to the commission that it only uses US maize products that are from protected non-genetically modified sources. The quantities of Bt 10 maize imported to the UK for food use should therefore be nil. Maize in the form of corn gluten feed and brewers' grains is imported from the US for animal feed. However, the amount of Bt 10 maize potentially consumed by animals is not known.
Genetically Modified foods
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent assessment she has made of the implications for human health of the consumption of GM foods containing antibiotic resistance marker genes. 
Caroline Flint: In the European Union, all genetically modified (GM) foods are subject to a mandatory pre-market safety assessment before they can be permitted to enter the food chain. This assessment is the responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and is based on a wide body of scientific evidence submitted in support of each application, including data on the presence of antibiotic resistance marker genes (ARMs). The significance of the presence of these genes is assessed on a case by case basis.
In April 2004, the EFSA scientific panel on genetically modified organisms published an opinion on the use of ARMs in GM plants. The UK advisory committee on novel foods and processes (ACNFP) considered this opinion at its meeting in May 2004. The Committee agreed with EFSA's conclusion that the safety of ARMS should take into account both the prevalence of resistance to the antibiotic among bacteria, in the intestine or in the environment, and the extent of use of the antibiotic and its importance for clinical human or animal therapy.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what account has been taken of Food Standards Agency research in formulating the Government's policy on genetically modified food; and if she will make a statement. 
Caroline Flint: The Food Standards Agency (FSA) were set up as a non-ministerial Government Department in April 2000 and has the objective of protecting public health from risks associated with consumption of food, and otherwise protecting the interests of consumers in relation to food. Government policy on genetically modified food is formulated through discussion among all the relevant Government Departments, including the FSA.
On June 14th, another member harked back to the manufactured MON 863 scare (see CropGen highlights archive: Death rattle of a scare story? [June 13th, 2005]):
Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment has been made of the health effects of Monsanto's toxin MON863. 
Caroline Flint: MON863 is a genetically modified maize line, not a toxin.
Each genetically modified food is assessed for safety on a case by case basis before it is approved for marketing. This includes a consideration of the genetic modification itself and resulting protein and toxicology, nutrition and allergenicity studies. A wide range of safety data on GM maize MON863 was assessed by the European Food Safety Authority's genetically modified organism panel, which concluded that the maize would have no adverse effect on human health. This conclusion was endorsed by the United Kingdom advisory committee on novel foods and processes.
1. Paul Meller (April 6th, 2005). Europe Leaves Modified Corn Inquiry to U.S. New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/06/business/worldbusiness/06corn.html?)
2. United Kingdom Parliament: Written Answers to Questions [28 Jun 2005]. Bt 10
3. United Kingdom Parliament: Written Answers to Questions [28 Jun 2005]. Genetically Modified Foods. (http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050628/text/50628w33.htm - 50628w33.html_sbhd10)
4. United Kingdom Parliament: Written Answers to Questions [14 Jun 2005]. GM Food (http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050628/text/50628w34.htm)
5. United Kingdom Parliament: Written Answers to Questions [14 Jun 2005]. Monsanto’s Toxin (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050614/text/50614w21.htm - 50614w21.html_sbhd0)