So far, there is no evidence of GM food being harmful to humans, but the rules governing their testing are less strict than with medicines, and after BSE, we know that "no scientific evidence of harm" is not the same as "safe to eat". A report published last year by Dr Arpad Pusztai sparked off public fears about GM foods. He claimed that his experiments, which involved feeding rats with potatoes genetically modified with a lectin gene from a snowdrop, caused stunted growth and immune system problems for the rats.
Though his report has been heavily criticised by other scientists, the Royal Society, Britain's oldest and most prestigious scientific body, has recommended that more research is needed. Each new genetic modification needs to be extensively tested for its safety, for not only humans but also animals and plants. No single test taken in isolation can either legitimate or condemn all GM food, or indeed any single genetically-modified organism.
Laboratory tests have shown that pollen from GM maize in the US damaged the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly. This is a case of damage to a single species, but it does show that genetically-modified organisms could have the potential to do unexpected harm to other plants and animals. In the end, this could lead to a loss of biodiversity and to certain animal and wild plant species effectively being rendered extinct.
Where test crops have been planted in this country, there is a definite danger of cross-contamination with wild or non-GM plant strains. Even with very strict controls in place, it is impossible to prevent pollen from travelling on the wind from GM crops to other, possibly organic versions of the same crop being grown nearby. Pollen could also be carried by insects. This could mean that in the end, all our food crops could contain a proportion of genetically-modified elements, and we as consumers would lose our right to choose whether to eat GM foods or not.
The countries most affected by drought...