PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 November, 1999, 12:00am

Most crops are altered genetically for higher yields, greater resistance and to be more nutritious.

But the Roundup Ready soybeans said to be used in three local soya milk and dessert products are chiefly designed to tolerate a specific herbicide.

The beans are made by US-based Monsanto, as is the herbicide Roundup Ultra, leading critics such as Greenpeace to allege the beans are altered solely for commercial considerations.

Monsanto's office in Hong Kong declined to comment yesterday but the company has argued that its soybeans also have a higher yield.

As the herbicide, used mainly to control weeds, is almost all-purpose, farmers can use fewer herbicides, and so its use is environmentally friendly, it is claimed. The assertions have been disputed by critics.

The scientific basis of the safety tests that qualified the beans for commercial use have also been challenged in recent months.

In the October 7 issue of the international scientific journal Nature, a letter argued that the principle used in the safety tests was a pseudo-scientific concept used to escape the usual toxicological tests.

The principle means a genetically modified food, say a potato, is safe for eating if it is shown to be substantially similar to its natural counterpart.

The genetically-modified-product industry in the US and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which has helped devise the concept, have denounced the criticism as unsound.


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