GENET archive


8-Misc: Blair moves away from absolute support of GE industry (1): The Independent

----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  Blair: GM may be a health risk
SOURCE: Independent, UK, by Geoffrey Lean
DATE:   February 27, 2000

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Blair: GM may be a health risk

Tony Blair today admits that genetically modified foods may damage 
human health almost exactly a year after he said he was so confident 
of their safety that he ate them himself. His dramatic U-turn comes 
in an exclusive article in the Independent on Sunday which senior 
government sources and environmental campaigners alike last night 
hailed as a turning point both on GM policy and in the "greening" of 
Downing Street,

In the article, Mr Blair who a year ago expressed his "frustration" 
at the outcry over genetic modification acknowledges that there is 
cause for "legitimate public concern" over the technology he has long 
championed. He endorses the main aims of this paper's campaign on GM 
foods and crops, whereas last year he complained against "an 
extraordinary campaign of distortion" by "parts of the media". He 
then swore to "resist the tyranny of pressure groups"; now he says 
they "have an important part to play in ensuring we reach the right 

This approach described as "a total change for the Prime Minister" by 
a senior government source marks a triumph for two of his most spun-
against ministers, Michael Meacher and Mo Mowlam. It is also designed 
to distance the Government from GM firms before they have to announce 
that they have been unable to persuade enough farmers to grow the 
crops on a trial basis this year.

"There's no doubt that there is potential for harm, both in terms of 
human safety and in the diversity of our environment, from GM food 
and crops," says Mr Blair. He understands the "cause for legitimate 
public concern", and says that because of possible ill-effects the 
Government is proceeding "very cautiously indeed".

He shows how the Government has taken measures that meet the two main 
aims of this paper's campaign a moratorium on commercial planting of 
GM crops, and labelling of GM foods. And while stressing the possible 
benefits of the technology, he adds: "Jobs and profit will never be 
more important ... than concern over human health and our 

It is a far cry from last February, when Downing St announced: "The 
Prime Minister is very strongly of the view that these products are 
safe. He has no hesitation about saying that and eating the products 
himself." He was then the main driving force behind the Government's 
aggressive promotion of GM technology. He privately told MPs that the 
public outcry was short-lived "flash in the pan".

His new approach strongly echoes the line that Mr Meacher, alone 
among ministers, has been advocating for over a year. Since Mo Mowlam 
succeeded the pro-GM Jack Cunningham as Cabinet enforcer she has been 
urging the Prime Minister to adopt the environment minister's more 
balanced approach.

Last night, Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the 
Earth, said: "This is a fantastic leap forward. For the first time Mr 
Blair seems to be listening to the people on these issues. The 
article signifies a real change of approach both over GM technology 
and on environmental issues as a whole." Today, Mr Blair will be at 
the Old Vic Theatre in London to mark the 100th anniversary of the 
Labour Party. He will outline a five-point plan designed to keep 
Labour in power and in favour for the next century.

The five goals are: full employment in the new knowledge economy; 
educational opportunity for all; restoring the NHS as the pride of 
Britain and the envy of the world; ending child poverty in 20 years; 
and making Britain "proud and strong in the world". He will say: "Our 
reforms ... civilised the 20th century. Even when not in power we 
forced onto the agenda our ideas of decency and justice ... Let us 
make the second hundred years an even greater success."


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