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Safety of GE corn queried by scientist

31 December 2007

NEW ZEALAND - Uncertainty over the safety of genetically engineered (GE) corn has not been reflected in Government announcements, a leading gene scientist believes.

Five days before Christmas, the Government approved high-lysine GE corn intended for animals as safe for New Zealanders to eat.

This was despite concerns from some that it may cause cancer, diabetes or Alzheimer's disease if it accidentally entered the human food chain.

Food Safety Minister Lianne Dalziel gazetted the Monsanto LY038 GE corn after a nearly six-month delay, which the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) said was not due to safety concerns.

But University of Canterbury scientist Dr Jack Heinemann, the director of the university's Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI), has taken issue with the NZFSA.

He said the authority had made some "interesting comments" in its public statements that were inconsistent with the expert opinion it had sought from crown research institute ESR (Environmental Science and Research) on a report by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

The NZFSA is already being reviewed for its controversial handling of the milk safety issue and the way it portrayed findings publicly -- by drawing conclusions that contradicted a report and releasing the report when the reviewer was unavailable to talk publicly about it.

INBI had objected to approving the corn for human consumption because the new protein introduced into the GE corn had not been laboratory tested to see how it reacted to cooking.

When cooked, the high level of lysine combines with sugars to form chemicals called advanced glycation endproducts (Ages), strongly implicated in diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cancer and forms of heart disease.

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