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8-Misc: Blair moves away from absolute support of GE industry (2): The Times



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

TITLE:  'Blair's policy shift on GM foods, widely welcomed as proof 
of the greening
        of his government, looks more like evidence that it has 
turned yellow'
SOURCE: The Times, UK, by Mick Hume
DATE:   February 28, 2000

-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------


'Blair's policy shift on GM foods, widely welcomed as proof of the 
greening of his government, looks more like evidence that it has 
turned yellow'

Judging by the way he has crossbred the Labour Party to produce a new 
species of flavour-free soya-based politics, one might have thought 
that Tony Blair was a fan of genetic modification. Yesterday, 
however, the prime minister came out as a sceptic about GM food. He 
declared that there is 'no doubt' that GM food and crops could harm 
human health and the environment, and pledged that the government 
would allow the GM process to proceed only 'very cautiously indeed'. 
Friends of the Earth hailed Mr Blair's announcement as 'a fantastic 
leap forward'. But for friends of humanity, it is a depressing slide 
backwards.

When Mr Blair was elected, perhaps the most refreshing thing about 
his government was that it promised a more robust attitude towards 
encouraging the development of science and technology. New Labour 
ministers gave a rhetorical commitment to ensuring that society could 
reap the benefits of change. Just a year ago, Blair dismissed the 
reaction against GM foods as 'hysteria' whipped up by media 
'distortion', while Downing Street assured us not only that the prime 
minister believed 'very strongly' that these products were safe, but 
that he had 'no hesitation' about eating them himself. Now it appears 
that Mr Blair prefers to eat his words.

What has happened to warrant this reversal? In scientific terms, the 
anti-GM panic remains, literally, a lot of fuss about nothing. Nobody 
is known to have suffered so much as an upset stomach as a result of 
eating GM foods, and there is still no hard evidence of any 
environmental damage caused by growing GM crops. Mr Blair's assertion 
that there is 'no doubt that there is potential for harm' in GM crops 
might be true, but only in the same sense that there is 'no doubt' 
that the sky could potentially fall on our heads tomorrow. Of course, 
there is no proof, either.

Mr Blair's conversion seems to have less to do with biotechnology 
than with psychology. New Labour has simply suffered a terminal loss 
of nerve in the face of environmental protests. The policy shift on 
GM foods, widely welcomed as proof of the 'greening' of the 
government, looks more like evidence that it has turned yellow. 
Instead of leading from the front and taking a stand for progress, 
New Labour appears to have opted to lie back and let Greenpeace and 
the Consumers' Association determine government policy.

The lobbyists could not contain their delight over the weekend, as a 
prime minister who once swore to 'resist the tyranny of pressure 
groups' over GM foods now admitted that they had 'an important part 
to play in ensuring that we reach the right answers'. Friends of the 
Earth boasted 'for the first time Mr Blair seems to be listening to 
the people on these issues'. In fact it is the disengagement of 'the 
people' from what now passes for politics, the lack of any genuine 
democratic debate in society, which has allowed unaccountable little 
lobby groups to assume such importance. They are parasitically 
feeding off public apathy and insecurity, puffing their influence by 
reinforcing a climate of irrational fear.

In private, many politicians and public figures will admit that they 
are appalled by the growth of superstition and anti-experimental 
prejudices, so evident over the GM food issue. Yet none of them seems 
prepared to stand up to the new forces of darkness. Yesterday the 
prime minister even sought favourably to contrast his government's 
four-year ban on growing commercial GM crops with the situation in 
America, where they have been successfully grown for some time. This 
amounts to boasting that New Britain is set to fall at least seven 
years behind the market leader in a key field of biotechnology. 
Rejoice. 

--

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