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9-Misc: Preparations for the UK public debate on GE

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                                  PART I
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TITLE:  Food watchdog 'hid' fears over GM
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Severin Carrell
DATE:   May 25, 2003

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Food watchdog 'hid' fears over GM

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been accused of suppressing public
fears about the safety of GM foods.

In a damaging attack on the agency's credibility, leading consumer groups
claim that the FSA deliberately "hid" a series of criticisms about the
potential risks of GM crops that were made by its own "citizens' jury".

In a memo to the FSA earlier this month, the committee claimed the agency
had "ignored existing concerns about GM food" on its website and in a
glossy booklet.

The FSA claimed that nine of the 15 members of the jury had backed GM
foods. But the jury had also unanimously criticised the Government's
decision to end its trials of GM crops - a verdict that was ignored in
FSA statements.

They also criticised the quality of safety data available to the public
and raised ethical concerns. The jury said: "More time is needed to
understand the long-term environmental implications of GM crops before
farmers start to grow them in the UK."

That verdict comes at a critical time. A Government-run "national debate"
on the commercial planting of GM crops is due to start next month as part
of a concerted campaign to counter deep-rooted public suspicion about GM

The FSA claims the press release on the jury's verdict was agreed with
the jury. A spokeswoman for the FSA said: "We're neither pro- nor anti-GM
foods. We're pro-consumer choice."

But the FSA's conduct has sparked protests from Sheila McKechnie, head of
the Consumers Association, and Dr Sue Mayer, of the pressure group
Genewatch. Both organisations have formally complained to the FSA.

Dr Mayer said: "I was shocked that they didn't reveal these results more
prominently. I don't think they're acting impartially, and the FSA is
driving government policy on GM foods."

Susan Davies, the Consumer Association's principal policy adviser, said
their research showed the public was far more sceptical than the FSA
admitted. She added: "We've been disappointed by the way they've handled
GM issues. They're putting their credibility at risk because they're
coming across as biased, and not putting consumer's concerns across properly."

[download the report at:]

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  No risk in GM food, say doctors
        Medical body may change its advice, but public 'needs more
SOURCE: The Observer, UK, by Kamal Ahmed,6903,963336,00.html
DATE:   May 25, 2003

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No risk in GM food, say doctors
Medical body may change its advice, but public 'needs more information'

The British Medical Association is to change its advice on the health
risks of genetically-modified foods after its Head of Science and Ethics
said she had seen 'no evidence' that it posed a threat.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson told The Observer there was no direct health risk
to people and work needed to be done on the environmental impact of GM
crops and on reassuring the public that there were 'global benefits'.

She also said that 'indirect threats' to human health through possible
changes to the environment needed to be analysed.

Nathanson was one of the authors of the original BMA report into the
dangers of GM foods in 1999, which said much more research was needed
before health risks could be ruled out.

The report came after controversial research from the Rowett Institute in
Aberdeen suggesting a link between GM potatoes and damage to rats fed on
them. It called for a moratorium on widespread planting of GM crops.

'We cannot at present know whether there are any serious risks to human
health involved in producing GM crops or consuming GM food products,' the
report said.

It promoted the 'precautionary principle' and was seized on by anti-GM
protestors who claimed it proved GM crops and foods were a risk.

The BMA report was seen as one of the seminal 'negative' assessments of
the GM industry, despite the association's insistence that it was a far
more balanced document than initially reported.

Nathanson will host a BMA 'round table' of experts to discuss updating
the BMA 1999 report. She said that because the science had moved on
considerably, she would be surprised if the BMA decided not to update its

Any softening of the line against GM foods would be a huge boost to the
industry in its campaign to convince the public that GM crops are safe.

Next week the Government will launch a 'nationwide debate' on the issue
with a series of public meetings.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said it wants
the public to have an input before it makes the key decision on whether
to give the go-ahead to GM crops later in the year. Large-scale trials of
GM crop growing at farms across the country will then be completed and
the results published.

Nathanson said that people needed much more information before they could
make a considered judgment. She said that at the moment the debate was
'hugely polarised'

'It is likely that the majority of people are not quite sure what genetic
modification means,' she said. 'There is no such thing as no risk, but
people have to be able to balance the risks and benefits.'