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9-Misc: Public debate in UK on GM crops criticised

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

TITLE:  Debate on GM crops criticised
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK, by Ian Sample,3604,969217,00.html
DATE:   June 3, 2003

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Debate on GM crops criticised

It has taken £500,000 of public money and more than a year to organise,
but the government-supported national debate on genetically modified
crops, which begins today, is in danger of becoming a farce, according to
an alliance of consumer and environmental organisations.

In a letter yesterday to the environment secretary, Margaret Beckett,
eight organisations claimed the debate was marred by errors. As a result,
the public are largely unaware the debate is happening and have no idea
how it will influence the government's decision on whether to approve
certain types of genetically modified crops later in the year.

The groups also criticised the government for arranging too few local
meetings and producing poor quality information to be used in the debates.

The letter was supported by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the
National Federation of Women's Institutes, the National Trust, Unison,
the RSPB and Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming.

The debate called "GM Nation?" begins at the NEC in Birmingham today.
There will then be five further debates, in Swansea, Taunton, Belfast,
Glasgow and Harrogate. These will be followed by smaller local meetings,
arranged by county councils,until mid-July.

The groups called for the debate to be extended until the end of October.
That would give more time for people to become involved and take account
of results from the government's field scale trials due to be published
in September.

William Mach, a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs said Ms Beckett had yet to respond to the letter.

Pat Wilson of the agriculture and environment biotechnology commission,
in charge of organising the public debate, said an extension of the
deadline was unlikely.

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

TITLE:  The man in the street gets his forum on GM food -
        but decides to stay in the street
        Government's 10-day public roadshow opens with a whimper
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK, by Ian Sample,2763,970008,00.html
DATE:   June 4, 2003

------------------ archive: ------------------

The man in the street gets his forum on GM food - but decides to stay in
the street
Government's 10-day public roadshow opens with a whimper

At last the time has come. The government's chance to try something never
before witnessed in this country, a project that radically departs from
run-of-the-mill democratic procedure. A debate that will reach out to
ordinary people up and down the country, engaging those from housing
estates to country estates on the subject of genetically modified crops.

Well, that's the idea, anyway.

The first of the public debates on whether or not Britain should push
ahead with GM crops began at the NEC in Birmingham yesterday with a
resounding whimper. Yesterday's was just the first of several such public
consultations, billed as GM Nation?, to be held across the country over
the next 10 days.

The government is describing it as "a national discussion like no other"
and "a unique experiment to find out what ordinary people think". The
only blemish on such noble intentions was the absence yesterday of
ordinary people.

Finding the room was easy, thanks to a token protest of three quiet anti-
GM campaigners from Friends of the Earth who unfurled their banner for a
television crew before rolling it up again until the next one came along.

Inside there was a little more bustle, created mostly by other members of
non-governmental organisations. They are anxious to air their views. "If
we give the go-ahead to GM crops, they will contaminate everything. What
are we going to do then? We don't know what it will do," said Lisa
Mountain, a member of the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth. "I
don't trust it at all."

Like most people who have turned up, Jackie Banks from Birmingham is also
terribly concerned about GM crops. But Ms Banks is not here primarily to
talk about GM. "I just thought I might meet a lot of people who are
concerned about things the government is trying to do," she said. Her
main beef is the fluoridation of water in Birmingham.

While those inside the room are eager to get the meeting under way - it
is scheduled to start at the helpful time for local working people of 3pm
- awareness of the debate outside the building is a little more fuzzy.
Just outside the sprawl of the NEC, Nick Skeens, a writer, said he had
never heard of the national debate. "I have to confess to complete and
utter ignorance of it," he said.

Ignorance of the debate is unsurprising. Not a penny has been spent on
advertising, bar the setting up of a website. Nor has the NEC mentioned
it on their events list. Such mentions are reserved for more popular
events such as Retail 2003 and PestEx, the annual exhibition and trade
fair for the pest control industry.

Back inside, the debate has started. After a quick run through the basic
issues, we have to study a few questions and debate them with the four or
five others on our table. Do we think GM foods cause health problems? Can
we cope with any GM problems? It rapidly becomes obvious we don't know,
so people start talking about how they came to find out about the debate
and how they got here instead.

After 25 minutes of chatting, a handful of tables were asked to report
back on the issues that arose from their debate. The first table is
worried GM crops are killing butterflies in America and might do the same
here. The facilitator on another table begins a rant about Monsanto's
lack of scruples. Another table comes clean. All the comments are
recorded and, along with questionnaires filled in at the end of the
debate, will be condensed into one final report presented to the
government and used to inform a series of crucial decisions to be taken
later this year.

By November the pressure will be on the government to make its mind up
whether to allow the cultivation, import or sale of 18 separate GM crops
that are awaiting approval in Brussels.

The decision to hold a public debate on genetically modified crops in the
first place was largely forced on the government. In 2001, the
Biotechnology Commission, an independent advisory body, published a
report called Crops on Trial. In it, they said that public views on GM
technology had become polarised.

The one thing most people agreed upon was that the public simply didn't
know enough about GM. To remedy the situation, they recommended, and the
government agreed to, a national debate so that issues from all sides
could be aired.

After today's meeting at the NEC, the GM roadshow will head off on a 10-
day tour of the UK, taking in Swansea, Taunton, Belfast, Glasgow and
finally Harrogate. Alongside, local councils are supposed to be
organising their own debates in town halls. By yesterday, only 20 such
meetings had been arranged.

It is not an ideal time for a debate on GM crops, said Sir Robert May,
president of the Royal Society. "The problem right now is we don't have
crops oriented to the consumer, the public doesn't get benefits," he
said. "But we can't postpone the debate until the second generation of
crops are available, because if we do that, we will throw down the sink
our contribution ... to the next generation."

But all sides are urging people to show up and make sure their views are
heard. "If people don't get involved, the government are going to say,
well, the people aren't interested, so we'll just go ahead with GM," said
Clare Oxborrow of Friends of the Earth.

The question as to whether the government will pay attention to the
outcome of the debate remains to be seen. The final report will be sent
to Margaret Beckett , the environment secretary, at the end of September.
"If the government doesn't listen, the whole thing will have been a
complete waste of time and money and will only enforce the view that the
government don't care what the people think," said Ms Oxborrow.

First, a more pressing challenge has to be met: engaging with those
elusive "ordinary people". Outside, Ollie Ralfe, a cameraman, was also
bemused to hear about the debate. "I didn't know there was anything going
on at all," he said.

Putting it into focus

Why have a public debate about GM crops?

In 2001, the agriculture and environment biotechnology commission, an
independent body set up by the government to advise on biotechnology
issues, wrote a report called Crops on Trial. It stated that views on GM
technology in the UK had become polarised and there was a need for a
debate to engage the public. GM Nation? is the outcome, a six week round
of debates beginning today at the NEC in Birmingham. The process is due
to end by July 18.

How are plants genetically modified?

The most common method uses soil bacteria. Genes for the desired trait,
be it pest resistance or herbicide tolerance, are added to the bacteria,
which are then used to infect plant tissue. When plant cells are exposed
to these modified bacteria, they can transfer the useful genes to the plant.

What are the main GM crops?

Two main types are being grown at the moment. The first can tolerate
herbicides and allow farmers to spray their crops with "broad spectrum"
herbicides which wipe out every plant in the field except the crop. The
second type of GM crop produces a toxin which kills the pests that feed on it.

Who makes GM crops?

Monsanto produces more than 90% of crops worldwide. Syngenta, Bayer
Cropscience, Dow and DuPont produce the rest.

Where are the crops grown?

The only GM crops being grown in Britain are for government field scale
evaluations, a four-year experiment to assess the impact of growing the
crops. Worldwide, GM crops are grown by at least 6 million farmers in 16
countries: the US, Argentina, Canada, China, Australia, Bulgaria,
Colombia, Germany, Honduras, India, Mexico, Romania, South Africa, Spain
and Uruguay. Four main crops are soya, maize, cotton and oilseed rape.

Where are the debates being held?

Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, June 5, 6-8.30pm
Holiday Inn, Taunton, June 7, 2-4.30pm
King's Hall, Belfast, June 9, 6-8.30pm
Glasgow Quality Hotel, Glasgow, June 11, 6-8.30pm
Pavilions (Yorkshire Showground), Harrogate, June 13, 2-4.30pm

GM Nation? can be contacted on +44 20 7261 8616 for tickets or debate


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Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

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