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TITLE:  Blair adviser attacks Labour GM crops 'fix'
SOURCE: The Observer, UK, by Antony Barnett and Mark Townsend
        http://www.observer.co.uk/politics/story/0,6903,935944,00.html
DATE:   Apr 13, 2003

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


Blair adviser attacks Labour GM crops 'fix'

A key scientific adviser to Tony Blair has launched the most damaging
attack yet on the Prime Minister's attempts to persuade the public to
accept genetically modified crops.

Sir Tom Blundell, a Labour supporter appointed by Blair to chair the
Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 1998, has effectively
accused ministers of a fix.

In a three-page letter leaked to the Observer, Blundell condemns
ministerial efforts to have an independent scientific review of GM
technology as 'artificial'. He warns that this will be completed before a
public debate has even started.

His comments will encourage critics who claim Blair has already decided
to introduce the GM crops into Britain's countryside. As a result of
growing public disquiet, Ministers agreed last summer to launch a
national public debate as well as an independent scientific and economic
review of the technology.

Blair promised that any go-ahead for the commercialisation of GM crops
would await the results of these reviews.

In a strongly-worded letter to Professor David King, the government's
chief scientific adviser who is heading the scientific review, Blundell,
professor of biochemistry at Cambridge University, casts doubt on the
whole process.

'The national public debate is only just about to start and will hold its
conferences, debates and meetings around the country between May and July
and is not due to report until the autumn,' Blundell writes in the letter
dated 19 March and copied to Downing Street's Strategy Unit.

'It seems impossible that the values articulated in that process could
inform the science review or the Strategy Unit's economic study which are
still due to publish their results in May and June respectively'.

The Royal Commission sees 'a real danger that their conclusion will
already have been cast, or at least the public would be justified in
perceiving that to be the case.'

Blundell concludes: 'Without a clearer mechanism and better prospects for
a fully integrated process, this opportunity will be wasted and an
artificial result will be all that is achieved.'

Blundell's concern is given extra weight by the fact that completion of
the farm trials - designed to discover whether GM crops affect the
environment - has been delayed, and potentially controversial findings
cannot now be discussed in the debate.

Pete Riley, food campaigner at Friends of Earth, said Blundell's comments
'strike right at the heart of the GM debate'. He said: 'This process was
supposed to be about giving the public confidence that a proper review of
all the issues would take place, but even Blair's most loyal scientific
lieutenants now admits there is a real problem.'

Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said: 'The decision
has been taken to accept GM following tremendous pressure from the
Americans. The Government is just going through the motions.'

The Science Review has been attacked as too pro-GM. At least a third of
its 25 experts have strong pro-GM views, including consultants to a
biotech firm owned by Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, a major Labour
Party donor. But it is the criticism of the Royal Commission chairman
that is likely to embarrass Ministers most.

A Department of Trade and Industry official refused to comment on the leak.