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7-Misc: Labour pays GM giants to come to UK



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INDEPENDENT (Sunday) FEB 14
Labour pays GM giants to come to UK

By Marie Woolf, Political Correspondent

Genetic engineering giants, including Monsanto, have been offered millions
of pounds in taxpayers' money to encourage them to expand their presence
in the United Kingdom.

The Government has earmarked more than #15m for biotechnology firms,
including Du Pont, one of the pioneers in genetic engineering, and
Monsanto, the American GM crops giant. In May 1997, the month that the
Labour government was elected, it gave Monsanto the first slice of a #1.5m
package to expand investment in Scotland.

The revelation comes as the Government is under increasing fire for its
close links with the genetic engineering firms. Firms involved in
genetically modified (GM) food have met government officials or ministers
81 times since Labour was elected. Monsanto visited the agriculture and
environment departments 22 times while Zeneca held 31 meetings with
officials or ministers.

Last night the Government insisted there was no evidence that GM food on
sale in the UK was a health risk. Such products on sale in the UK were
safe, Dr Jack Cunningham, Cabinet Office Minister, said after food
retailers demanded a clear statement to reassure consumers. The British
Retail Consortium had warned that shops could lose billions of pounds if
consumers lost confidence because of government dithering over GM food.

"No new products [containing GM substances] will be allowed for sale
unless they have passed a whole series of rigorous and careful checks and
tests," said Dr Cunningham. "We believe the products currently on sale are
safe. Stores have been selling these products to the consumers for several
years, and they have been very happily buying them because they are safe."

However, last night supermarkets, including Somerfield, Asda and
Sainsbury's, showed signs of turning against GM crops. They said that they
were asking suppliers to buy up GM-free fields all over the world so that
they could guarantee their own-brand foods such as crisps and ready-made
meals were GM-free. "We are actively looking for GM-free supplies," said a
spokesman for Sainsbury's. "We want to reduce the number of GM ingredients
used wherever possible."

Government funds will go to a Monsanto factory in Girvan, south of Ayr,
which extracts chemicals from seaweed. Monsanto, which insists that no
work on genetic engineering goes on at its plant, has so far received
#785,000; it will be eligible for the rest of the #1.5m inward investment
package once it has hired more workers.

"As far as this place is concerned there is no GM work whatsoever," said a
spokesman for the company.

The Government has offered Du Pont, the UK arm of the American-based
chemical multinational, almost #15m to encourage it to expand factories in
the North-east of England and Northern Ireland.

A spokesman for Du Pont said: "Most of our work on genetic engineering is
being done in the States. We are doing some research in the UK. The money
given to the plants in the North-east and Northern Ireland has nothing to
do with genetic modification."

This week a group of MPs from all parties will be established to
scrutinise government policy on GM food, and the Commons environmental
audit select committee plans to launch an investigation into genetically
modified organisms.

Last week MPs tabled a Commons motion congratulating The Independent on
Sunday on its campaign for a freeze on growing GM crops in Britain until
rigorous tests of their effects on the environment have been completed.

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-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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