Royal Society president Lord May has hit back at lobby groups for misrepresenting the findings of the latest Royal Society report into GM foods. "We're not gung-ho positive about GM, but nor do we see any special worries about the technology," said May, a former government chief scientist and Oxford research professor. "The problem is that our report is susceptible to selective quotation." For example, it recognised concerns that introducing a gene into a plant might cause low levels of previously unknown toxins, anti-nutrients or allergens ­ something widely reported by environmental pressure groups. What GM detractors failed to report was the Society's findings that conventional plant breeding can also cause a similar rearrangement of the genome ­ and the subsequent activation of unknown toxins and allergens. "What we do say is that substantial equivalence [if a GM food can be shown to be essentially equivalent to an existing food it can be considered to be as safe as its conventional equivalent] is a good starting point," said May. "But we do need further research into all novel foods, GM or otherwise." May said GM foods would have to "engage the mass of the public with real, tangible health or consumer benefits" if they were to get back on the shelves. Few people had kicked up a fuss about vegetarian cheese, which uses GM vegetable rennet and is widely available in supermarkets and health food shops across the UK, said May. "This is because there is an obvious tangible benefit to a certain group of consumers." A spokesman said the "overwhelming conclusion" of the Royal Society's report is that: "GM per se does not make food inherently unsafe. That's the bottom line." However, the application of substantial equivalence must be more consistent across the EU and there should be research into the effects of genetic modification on the nutritional content of babyfood. l See Letters, p22 {{NEWS }}