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In a controversial move that will primarily benefit US exporters, genetically modified (GM) crops will be allowed to enter the UK without the need for regulatory clearance for the first time under plans expected to be approved this week.
Currently, imported animal feed containing GM feed has to be authorised by European regulators, but the UK is set to back EU plans to permit the importing of feed containing traces of unauthorised GM crops.
According to The Observer, “a vote on Tuesday in favour of the scheme put forward by the EU’s standing committee on the food chain and animal health would overturn the EU’s “zero tolerance” policy towards the import of unauthorised GM crops.”
This move would be a victory for the pro-GM lobby and would greatly benefit US exporters, however environmental groups are likely to be alarmed at these proposals.
“The GM industry is pushing this proposal so it can wedge its foot firmly in the door and open up the British and European markets to food no one wants to eat,” said Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, a campaigner against GM food. “Its long-term aim is to contaminate the food chain to such an extent that GM-free food will disappear.”
Eve Mitchell, food policy advisor at Food and Water Europe (a campaign group), says: “This is a solution without a problem, and the price could be very high indeed when unknown genetically modified organisms are let loose in the food chain.
“Rather than ignoring EU food safety laws to help the US soy industry cut costs, we should simply buy the stuff from countries that segregate their GM properly. If it hasn’t been tested, why eat it?”
Meanwhile in an unrelated yet similarly alarming move, hundreds of herbal products will be banned in Britain from 1 May in accordance with an EU-wide ban on herbal medicinal products.
From 1 May 2011, traditional herbal medicinal products must be licensed or prescribed by a registered herbal practitioner. However, the move has caused some criticism as herbal practitioners say it is difficult for most herbal medicines to meet the licensing requirements, due to the large costs of testing. The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) estimates the cost of obtaining a licence at between £80,000 and £120,000 per herb. They say this will be affordable for single herbal products with big markets but will drive small producers of medicines containing multiple herbs out of business.
Thousands of patients who use herbal treatments may lose access to the herbal medicinal products, and medical organisations including the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have warned that these measures may drive patients to obtain the medicines over the internet at a much greater risk.
Michael McIntyre, the chairman of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association, said: “The problem is you can’t get a licence for many herbal medicines because they are grown in people’s back gardens and you can’t patent them. The implications are very serious. Patients want to receive treatment from trained and qualified practitioners but unless we have regulation they can’t have confidence in who is treating them. The worst outcome is that patients will end up going to the internet for their herbal medicines where there are no controls.”
The EU law has been implemented due to rising concerns over safety and of the adverse effects caused by some herbal medicines. However, there have been criticisms that the ban will have negative effects for huge numbers of people across Europe. Dr Rob Verkerk, of the ANH, said: “Thousands of people across Europe rely on herbal medicines to improve their quality of life. They don’t take them because they are sick – they take them to keep healthy. If these medicines are taken off the market, people will try and find them elsewhere, such as from the internet, where there is a genuine risk they will get low quality products, that either don’t work or are adulterated.”
Although the GM crops and herbal remedies proposals are unrelated, it does seem as if the general consensus in the EU at the moment is that GM crops are harmless, whilst herbal medicinal remedies are a safety concern. Or am I being too cynical?
Europe: GM crops 1, Herbal remedies 0