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Daily Express / 12 March 1999 / Exclusive by Mark Townsend

Fresh fears over the safety of genetically modified foods surfaced faced yesterday after new research revealed that food allergies relating to soya increased by 50 percent last year. A study by Europe's leading specialists on food sensitivity found health complaints caused by soya--the ingredient most associated with GM foods--have increased from 10 in 100 patients to 15 in 100 over the past year. Researchers at the York Nutritional Laboratory said their findings provide real evidence that GM food could have a tangible, harmful impact on the human body.

The findings were sent to Health Secretary Frank Dobson last night as scientists urged the Government to act on the information and impose an instant ban on GM food, while further safety tests are carried out. Dr Michael Antoniou, senior lecturer in molecular pathology at Guy's Hospital, Central London, said, "This is a very interesting if slightly worrying development. It points to the fact that far more work is needed to assess their safety. At the moment no allergy tests are carried out before GM foods are marketed and that also needs to be looked at."

John Graham, spokesman for the York laboratory, said, "We believe this raises serious new questions about the safety of GM foods because it is impossible to guarantee that the soya used in the tests was GM-free." It is the first time in 17 years of testing that soya has crept into the laboratory's top 10 foods to cause an allergic reaction in consumers. The vegetable has moved up four places to ninth end now sits alongside foodstuffs with a long history of causing allergies, such as yeast, sunflower seeds and nuts.

Mr. Graham said researchers tested 4,500 people for allergic reactions to vegetables including soya. Among the range of chronic illnesses it caused were irritable bowel syndrome, digestion problems and skin complaints including acne and eczema. "People also suffered neurological problems with chronic fatigue syndrome, headaches and lethargy. It is worrying," Mr Graham added. Researchers measured the levels of antibodies in a person's blood. If increased levels were detected it showed the person suffered an adverse reaction to a particular food.

Soya, the wonder crop of the 20th century is found in 60 percent of all processed foods sold in the UK--from bread to baby food, ready-to-eat curries to vegetarian lasagne. But because GM and natural soya are mixed at source in America--the world's biggest supplier--it has become increasingly difficult for retailers to guarantee the purity of any products.

Last month campaigners from Greenpeace dumped four tons of GM soya beans from America at the gates of Downing Street in protest. The Consumers' Association yesterday renewed its demand for the Government to investigate the safety of GM foods. A spokesman said, "We just don't know what health problems could arise in the future." Waitrose yesterday announced that it would be stocking its own-label GM-free foods by the end of the month. Managing director David Felwick said, "We believe customers should be able to make an informed choice about the products they are buying."