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3-Food: UK anti-GE campaigners critizise methodes of GE debate

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SOURCE: Western Morning News, UK, by Aura Sabadus
DATE:   Apr 8, 2003

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The Food Standards Agency has come under fire from Westcountry
campaigners after a jury in a debate shown on the Internet decided
yesterday that genetically modified products should be available to buy
in the United Kingdom. Members of environmental group Friends of the
Earth condemned the agency for "biased propaganda", claiming that the 15
people chosen to issue a verdict on the matter did not reflect consumers'

Staunch anti-GM campaigner Keith Hatch, from Dorset, said: "These people
were asked whether they agreed to have GM products in the UK. The result
of the debate is no surprise given the question asked. The Food Standards
Agency has been hell-bent on promoting GM food, but despite this, a
significant proportion of the jury voted against.

"If the jury were asked whether they thought GM food should be grown in
our countryside we are confident they would have said no. If they were
asked if they wanted GM food labelled, we are confident they would have
said yes.

"The questions oversimplified the issue. Over the last five years the
public has made it clear they want a choice when it comes to GM food.
This means full labelling - something the FSA has consistently lobbied

"It's a shame that the FSA set a politically motivated question rather
than addressing the issues that people care most deeply about.

"To say that from now on GM products should be available to buy in the UK
seems quite a sweeping statement for such a small section of the public.
This is simply biased propaganda."

After two hours of heated deliberation, nine members of the jury
concluded that GM food should be available for sale, claiming they were
confident about safety measures. Additionally, a statement put out by the
FSA explains: "While some anti-GM concerns are valid, there has to be
choice. If the UK doesn't embrace new developments in science it will be
left behind, because there are demonstrable benefits from GM."

But Mr Hatch fired back, saying the UK had "nothing to gain from the
technology - on the contrary it would affect the livelihood of organic

All 15 members of the jury agreed that education and effective labelling
of GM foods were vital if the products were introduced into the country.

A spokesman for the FSA said: "A number of jurors expressed concerns
about the long-term safety of GMOs, ethical concerns, and the
environmental impact of growing GM crops in the UK.

"Although environmental issues are outside the remit of the FSA, the
concerns of jurors about environmental issues will be included in the
final published report of the jury's considerations."

The jury, socially representative of the population of Slough, included
an accountant, two students, a housewife, a taxi driver, a driving
instructor and a minister of religion.

Thousands of people watched the live Internet broadcast of the jury on
the FSA's website over three days, with over 1,000 viewers watching the
jurors deliver their verdict to the FSA. The debate was part of a
campaign organised by the agency to determine the public's views on the
technology and to provide basic details about the subject. The
information is provided on the FSA website.

But Robert Vint, a Westcountry GM expert, claimed the project was going
against the interests of consumers. He won the backing of nine national
consumer groups.