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GM food battle moves to Russia

(Thursday, Sept. 18, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Vladimir Radyuhin, The Hindu, 09/17/03: MOSCOW -- Now that Europe has succumbed to American pressure to allow genetically modified foods, the battle is shifting to Russia.

Current Russian legislation bans development and production of GM foods, but allows their import and marketing. Since last year producers are required to label their foodstuffs if they contain five or more per cent of GMO (genetically modified organisms). However, many companies ignore the demand taking advantage of the lack of testing laboratories in Russia.

Supporters of GMO technologies in Russia feel greatly encouraged by the European Union's July decision to drop a ban on transgenic crops. They argue that unless Russia joins the growing family of nations which cultivate GM crops, it will lose the race for competitive agricultural technologies. According to the Russian grain union president, Arkady Zlochevsky, the ban on the growth of GM food benefits American exporters, as GM wheat costs 20 per cent less to grow than conventional wheat.

Opponents of genetic engineering say that biosafety of GM products has not been proved.

"Biological evolution has ruled out transmission of genes, for example, from mice to a plant. Genetic engineering has overcome this barrier, inserting alien genes into organisms," said Vladimir Kuznetsov, head of the Timiryazev Institute of Plant Physiology. "Long-term effects of consuming such products have not been studied."

A study carried out at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Nutrition showed that rats fed on beetroot and transgenic potato developed abnormal changes in liver and other organs.

"The most visible side-effects of GM food on human beings is allergy and increased resistance to antibiotics," said Dr. Kuznetsov. Another danger in growing GM plants is the possibility of cross-breeding with conventional crops, ecologists warn, as this may trigger unpredictable changes in ecological systems.

Despite massive opposition from scientists, experts predict that Russia will not be able to hold out against the onslaught of GM products.

"As genetic engineering scales new heights and with Russia poised to join the World Trade Organisation, it is reasonable to expect a growing flow of GM products to the Russian market," said a statement issued after recent parliamentary hearings.

Aggressive lobbying by Western biotechnology companies like Monsanto, coupled with low awareness of the GMO problem among Russian customers make this forecast highly plausible.

Source: http://www.hindu.com/2003/09/17/stories/2003091700491500.htm