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9-Misc: UK GM debate (2): Political risks outweight any advantages

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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  New blow to Government on GM food as public debate confirms
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Michael McCarthy
DATE:   Jul 18, 2003

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New blow to Government on GM food as public debate confirms scepticism

The leading academic charged with overseeing the Government's public
opinion exercise on the introduction of genetically modified crops
admitted yesterday that there was widespread scepticism about their benefits.

The conclusion of Professor Malcolm Grant, chairman of the National GM
debate, which ends today after more than 450 public meetings, will be
another blow to Tony Blair's determined support for GM crops and food.

The debate, which has lasted six weeks, is the Government's much-
trumpeted device for letting people have their say. The official report
of the debate, thought to be the largest exercise of its kind, will be
delivered to the Government at the end of September by Professor Grant,
the new provost of University College London. Nearly 20,000 people have

Asked about the general mood, he said: "People are precautionary." There
was widespread scepticism about GM crops and foods in general.

Professor Grant, formerly pro vice-chancellor of Cambridge University,
emphasised that the material had yet to be fully analysed. No specific
conclusions could be drawn.

But the scepticism, he said, was partly because people did not trust the
agricultural research done by what they saw as private, profit-making
companies such as Monsanto, rather than Government's agricultural
research stations. It was also because the GM crops proposed - oilseed
rape, maize and beet - did not appeal to people. "There is no perception
of potential benefits on a consumer level," he said.

Professor Grant's comments will be especially unwelcome to Mr Blair, and
to other pro-GM ministers such as Margaret Beckett, the Environment
Secretary, and Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the Science minister, as it
comes hard on the heels of another official GM exercise which did not go
the way the Government may have wished, the Cabinet Office study of GM
costs and benefits. This concluded last week that economic benefits from
growing GM crops in Britain were likely to be limited.

A third official GM exercise, a review of GM science conducted by a panel
led by Professor Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific
adviser, will report on Monday.

Whether or not the debate has an influence on the decision to authorise
the commercial growth of GM crops in Britain, expected in the autumn,
remains to be seen. Mrs Beckett promised to "listen" to the conclusions -
but not necessarily to take any account of them.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Public suspicion forces GM rethink
        Ministers see political risks as outweighing any advantages
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK, by Paul Brown,9061,1000583,00.html
DATE:   Jul 18, 2003

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Public suspicion forces GM rethink
Ministers see political risks as outweighing any advantages

The government is rethinking its plans to go full ahead with the
introduction of genetically modified crops this autumn because of
continued overwhelming public suspicion of the technology and ministers'
motives for introducing it.

Cabinet ministers have decided that the political risks of introducing GM
increasingly outweigh any advantages, the Guardian has been told.
Confidence was badly shaken last week by the Cabinet Office strategy
unit's forecast of civil unrest unless the strictest rules were enforced
to prevent contamination of conventional and organic crops.

Tony Blair, who has been unswerving in his enthusiasm for GM technology,
is said by government sources to have changed his mind about the early
introduction of crops in the light of public hostility.

He remains concerned about the potential loss to the UK's scientific
research and development base if the country turns against GM. But that
is set against fears that the real impact of GM on a sceptical public
would come in two years - just as he may be facing a general election.

Ministers' doubts have been fuelled by the results of a nationwide
debate, GM Nation, which ends today. They show that despite huge efforts
from the science lobby and the industry the public still believes that
not enough is known about the risks to both health and the environment
for the government to go ahead with the technology.

More than 450 public meetings have been held and up to 23,000 formal
responses will have been submitted. Full analysis of the results will not
be known until the autumn but the majority of meetings concluded that it
is too soon to let the technology loose on the British countryside.

The fact that the US government has threatened a trade war if the EU
blocks the import of GM foods has fuelled public opposition. The
political risks of siding with the GM lobby against the British public
have alarmed ministers.

On Monday, when the scientific report on the possible health effects of
GM is published, it too will strike a more cautious note than expected.
Some members of the committee have objected to what they perceive as the
gung-ho advocacy of GM of the government's chief scientist, Professor Sir
David King, Sir John Krebs, chairman of the food standards agency, and
Professor Howard Dalton, the chief scientific adviser to the Department
of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Instead of giving GM a complete endorsement the report will now say there
are still gaps in knowledge and potential for nasty surprises.

Prof King had strongly influenced the prime minister to support the
technology as being vital to feed the third world and to help maintain
Britain's science base.

But in electoral terms Mr Blair faces stiff opposition from middle
England. Among those demanding more time for public information are the
Women's Institute and the Consumers' Association that have both called
for a more extensive public debate.

A coalition including Action Aid, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the
Children say that claims that GM are needed to feed the developing world
are misleading and should not be used for its promotion.

Recent EU decisions on labelling of GM foods and the need to create rules
for growing GM crops has raised further complications. The government has
to decide how to segregate conventional groups and GM crops to safeguard
against contamination. There is also the question a liability regime so
that if contamination takes place the injured party can claim compensation.

However, the potential financial risks this regime might place on the
farmer would make growing GM crops extremely unattractive.

Ministers' enthusiasm has been further eroded this week by the UK
supermarkets, who told Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, that
they still had no intention of selling modified products. This would
leave little home market for GM crops grown in the UK.

A further problem is that the result of trials on GM crops are due in
September and are thought to be inconclusive, leaving the government with
a another headache.

What next?


Last day of GM Nation debate chaired by Professor Malcolm Grant, who
declared himself encouraged by 450 public meetings and 23,000 individual
forms returned by the end of last week


Review of GM to summarise the state of scientific knowledge, consensus
and areas of uncertainty. Key issues are food and feed safety, gene flow,
detection and environmental impact of GM


Summary of public debate and focus groups on whether and when GM should
be introduced into the UK both for growing of crops and in food. It will
include dicussion of possible safeguards.

Results of three years of scientific trials into the effect of GM crops
on the UK environment will be published in a scientific journal.

Comments on the Cabinet Office strategy unit' s economic assessment of GM


Government must decide whether to allow import and growing of GM crops in


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

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