Archived news articles - 2000

The Straits Times, 25 November 2000

Modified food "not more harmful"

LIKE many other things nowadays, genetically-modified (GM) food holds potential risks; but it is no more dangerous than everyday situations such as breathing polluted air or eating food sprayed with pesticides, experts say.

Professor Trevor Thorpe, of the department of biological sciences at the University of Calgary in Canada, told The Straits Times: "People die from peanut allergies every week, but you don't see people demanding that peanuts not be sold or grown."

Said Dr Arie Altman, professor of horticulture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: "The foreign genes cannot integrate into our constitution. We have been eating plants for thousands of years. But none of us turned green or started producing chlorophyll."

And GM food is tested stringently, he added.

"In the US, for example, they must be approved by three agencies -- the US Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. No other foods have to go through this.

"It's mainly in the developed countries where people are well fed that they have the luxury of the "let them eat cake' mentality, and argue against GM food.

"In many developing countries, where people go to bed hungry, they are all for GM technology as it will boost production."

One good way to let people learn the facts about GM food -- minus the hysteria -- was through schools, both professors said.

This was happening in Singapore, said Associate Professor Lee Sing Kong, dean of graduate programmes and research at the National Institute of Education (NIE) and chairman of the public-awareness sub-committee of the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC).

Lecturers from NIE and NUS already give talks on GM food to secondary school students, and GMAC is discussing the possibility of cooperating with the Singapore Science Centre in exhibitions on GM organisms as well as biotechnology sessions for students, he said.

The two foreign professors were part of a panel that spoke about GM food in a public forum on Thursday, which was attended by more than 400 people.

Singapore Press Holdings Limited The Straits Times (Singapore). Copyright 2000

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