- Published on Sunday, 15 July 2012 13:44
- Written by Sean Poulter
The first step towards approving the use of genetically modified animals to make so-called 'Frankenstein foods' has been unveiled by European food watchdogs.
They have produced guidance on how to examine the risk posed to the environment by genetically modified fish, insects and animals.
Critics fear the new consultation document will 'open the floodgates' to the widespread farming of GM animals and crops across Europe.
Details of the plans have been revealed by the European Food Safety Authority.
The watchdog – which sets policy for all EU member states including the UK – states: 'The document ... outlines the specific data requirements and methodology for the environmental risk assessment of GM animals.'
The new regime will examine how best to check the suitability of applications to farm genetically modified salmon, insects, mammals and birds.
But last night critics attacked the European food watchdog's stance. GeneWatch director Dr Helen Wallace warned: 'The EU is set to open the floodgates not only to expand the import and growing of GM crops but also to approve GM insects, fish and meat and milk from GM farm animals.
'Rules on GM imports will be relaxed, and risks to the environment ignored.
'GM fish and insects would be impossible to recall if anything goes wrong and impacts on British wildlife and food markets could be devastating.'
In fact, a number of applications are already in the pipeline. One British company, Oxitec, has developed a GM sterile strain of male diamond back moths which it claims will reduce the number of pests that damage cabbage and cauliflower crops.
Oxitec has approached the Department for Agriculture with plans to run field trials in the UK.
The GM moths are designed to mate with wild females without producing any offspring, so causing the population to fall sharply. The same company has developed a GM mosquito, which it claims will help to control the spread of dengue fever across the developing world.
Oxitec insists its GM insects will benefit the environment by replacing insecticides.
However, Dr Wallace is not convinced.
'Changing one part of an ecosystem can have knock-on effects on others in ways that are poorly understood,' he said.
'This could include an increase in different types of pest,' she said. 'Wildlife that feeds on insects could be harmed if there are changes to their food supply.
GM insects that bite animals or humans could cause allergies or transmit diseases and new diseases might evolve.'
Previously, the European food watchdogs have given approval, in principle, for the sale of meat and milk from the offspring of clones despite concerns from consumers.
Separately, the US authorities are evaluating the safety of GM salmon, which have been modified in the lab to grow at a super-fast rate on fish farms.
In China, scientists are working on cows that have been genetically modified to create milk that is high in Omega 3, which is commonly found in fish oils, or free of lactose, which some people find hard to digest.