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Geneticist calls for broader GM debate

The Herald (Glasgow), UK
March 15, /2001
by Vic Robertson

A PLEA for more reason in the debate on biotechnology and genetic modification was issued by one of the world's leading authorities on the subject yesterday. The debate had become one of emotion rather than of more substantive issues, said Professor Channapatna Prakash, director of the Centre of Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University in Alabama, US.

"We have done more than 25,000 field tests with these crops so far and not one single issue of alarm has been raised and we have very high standards of food safety regulation in the US," he told an invited audience at the US embassy in London. It had adopted a science-based approach and found that the risks attached to GM material were no different from conventional stock. He acknowledged there was considerable opposition to GM technology but claimed this was due to the "vested interest" of certain groups, such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the organic community. "I think we need to engage in dialogue with these groups. "For example, Christian Aid is worried about socio-economic inequities that may follow on from the use of these technologies. But these are not clear cut, black-and-white issues and they need to be discussed."

He said the current state of genetic technology was equivalent to the Model T. Progress in the study of genomics in plants and animals would eventually lead to advances that consumers could relate to, such as improvements in food safety, reduced toxins and allergens and improved nutrition.