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6-Regulation: UK Minister of Environment cannot support GE crop ban

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

TITLE:  GM food ban would be 'illegal'
SOURCE: British Broadcasting Corporation
DATE:   May 19, 2003

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GM food ban would be 'illegal'
The UK Government is sponsoring a review of GM science

The government says it may be forced to allow farmers to grow
genetically-modified (GM) crops in Britain even if the public does not
want them. The environment minister Michael Meacher told the BBC a ban on
GM crops would be illegal unless there is scientific proof that they harm
people or the environment. The latest polls show only 14% of people in
Britain approve of GM food. But Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Farming
Today that public opposition alone would not influence the government's
decision. "We have to act in accordance with the law," he said on Monday.
"The law at the present moment is set down in a EU directive and the key
and sole criteria for taking action with regard to GM crops is: Are they
a harm or risk to the environment?"

'No evidence'

Later this year the government will decide whether to license commercial
GM crops. Scientists investigating the effects of GM crops on the
government's behalf have yet to find they cause harm. Two weeks ago, the
Royal Society said there was no evidence eating GM foods was any
different from eating naturally produced food. A senior member of the
society said the public had been frightened by "unsubstantiated claims".
A widespread public consultation on the issue is due to begin in two weeks.

Crops attacked

On Sunday, protesters cut down a GM crop in Fife. The rapeseed crop was
the second in a week in Scotland to be attacked. A spokeswoman for the
protesters said: "It expresses people's serious fears for the safety of
public health, for consumers' right to choose GM-free food and their
fears of a long-term environmental catastrophe." Environmental
campaigners Friends of the Earth said Mr Meacher's comments showed the
government would ignore the public "if it felt like it".

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

TITLE:  Who's listening?
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK, by Donald MacLeod
DATE:   May 19, 2003

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Who's listening?

Will public opinion on genetically modified crops make any difference to
the government? 
Where do scientists stand on the debate over genetically modified crops? 

Today environment minister Michael Meacher came close to suggesting the
answer is "it doesn't matter".

There has been considerable activity among academics in the run-up to the
public debate due to be launched next month to consider views and the
results of field trials. But Mr Meacher said licences for growing GM
crops in the UK might have to be approved despite public opposition
because of European Union legislation.

"We have to act in accordance with the law," Mr Meacher told BBC Radio
4's Farming Today programme. "And the law at the present moment is set
down in the EU directive, and the key and sole criteria for taking action
in regard to GM crops is: are they a harm, a risk to health or the

The environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth said his comments
undermined the credibility of the public debate. Spokesman Peter Riley
said: "Next month, the government is launching its public debate on GM
crops. But if it is to have any credibility, ministers must guarantee
beforehand that if the public say they don't want GM crops, the
government will not give them the commercial go-ahead. Without that
guarantee, there seems little point in debating the issue.

"The problem is that this government is so pro-GM that they are not
recognising scientific uncertainty when it hits them in the face," he added.

Although trials have not come up with evidence that the crops are
harmful, opinion polls suggest that fewer than 15% support GM food.

Scientific opinion appears much more favourable to the new technology to
judge from submissions to the national GM review promoted by the
government. But they are by no means unanimous. The review's website,, carries evidence ranging from "Transgenic
cotton a winner in India" by Professor Chris Leaver, head of plant
science at Oxford, to "Chronicle of an ecological disaster foretold" by
Dr Mae-Wan Ho, of Hong Kong University, and Professor Joe Cummins, of the
University of Western Ontario.

Scientists seem much less worried about the safety of "frankenfoods" -
the Royal Society (in effect Britain's academy of science) has told the
government there is no evidence they are less safe than conventional
foods - but there is debate about the environmental impact. Dr Ho and
Professor Cummins, for instance, argue that a sterile gene engineered
into a crop could be transferred to other crops or wild relatives. "This
could severely compromise the agronomic performance of conventional crops
and cause wild relatives to go extinct". They say that this process could
also produce genetic instabilities, "leading to catastrophic breakdown".
They conclude: "We simply have no data to assure us that this has not
happened or cannot happen".

One of the most interesting contributions is from Professor RJ Berry, of
University College London, who sees the main problem as the risk to
biodiversity, both by the possibility of targeted pest and weed control,
and by the indirect effects on organisms higher in the food chain (such
as seed-eating or insectivorous birds). "This risk has certainly been
over-emphasised in the context of GM because the whole trend in modern
farming has been to minimise the occurrence of unwanted (weeds or
'volunteers'), thus creating as near approximations to monoculture as
possible. There has been a cataclysmic decline in many farmland
specialist bird species as a consequence. But this has nothing to do with
GM, despite irresponsible scare stories of the dangers.........There is
no intrinsic reason why GM will necessarily be more malign to
biodiversity than current farming practices, but continued monitoring is
clearly going to be important," he writes.

Professor Berry diagnoses one of the key problems in the attitudes of
scientists themselves. "In reality, the most problematic issues are those
at the borders of science, where science meets society. Natural
scientists have had a bad habit in the past of leaving such 'fringe'
issues to social scientists. Most natural scientists are still have not
convinced of the need to contribute more fully to such topics."

He recalls chairing a committee investigating the overuse of pesticides
and toxic chemicals in farming. "It took two years hard work to convince
the natural scientists involved that there was more to their work than
merely producing hard data and an even more difficult task to persuade
the social scientists that the sole function of natural science was not
simply to produce data for their use," he says, adding: "These barriers
must be broken down if there is to be a trust in 'science' and a sensible
debate about GM and its possibilities - particularly in the developing world."

Related articles
04.03.2003: GM licensing gets go ahead
20.02.2003: More time for public say on GM crops
12.02.2003: Minister pledges redress for GM harm
11.02.2003: Slow germination of GM crop debate
28.01.2003: New Zealand clones cows for cheaper cheese
03.01.2003: GM protesters accused of increasing contamination
30.12.2002: Alert after GM crop altered other plants
29.11.2002: Review of GM strategy will ignore field trials

12.02.2003: Renew the debate on GM food
29.11.2002: GM could be good for you
31.10.2002: Europe's biotech madness

11.02.2003: Michael Meacher, environment minister
11.02.2003: Lord Robert May, Royal Society