GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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Minister blames industry for modified maize row



The poitical temperature is rising!:


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Minister blames industry for modified maize row 
ENDS Daily - 10/03/97 
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UK Environment Minister John Gummer has blamed the 
biotechnology industry for Europe's simmering row over 
genetically modified crops.  Speaking this morning at a 
conference on biotechnology in London, Mr Gummer said that 
lack of openness by the industry had been a direct cause of 
political friction between EU governments. 
 
Mr Gummer said:  "I do not think [EU environment ministers] 
should have argued over the risks of genetically modified 
maize in Europe.  We should not have had to do so if 
industry had been as punctilious as the public expects it 
to be." 
 
He continued:  "I found it very hard to have to say to 
[other EU environment ministers] that what was wrong here 
was not that we got the science wrong, but that the 
industry reaction to the science was wrong and that the 
bureaucratic reaction to that reaction was wrong too". 
 
The European Commission gave the first EU marketing 
clearance for a genetically modified maize last December. 
In spite of this, in the last month Austria and Luxembourg 
have banned imports and France and Italy have banned 
cultivation of the maize. 
 
The UK was one of 13 countries that objected to the maize 
before its EU approval.  British scientists were concerned 
about an antibiotic resistance gene added to the maize by 
its developer, US firm Ciba (now merged with Swiss chemical 
firm Sandoz to form Novartis).  They advised that the gene 
might transfer to other species, leading to a spread of 
antibiotic resistance, and called for antibiotic resistance 
genes to be removed before commercialisation of genetically 
modified products. 
 
Mr Gummer said today that the public is "very frightened" 
about some aspects of biotechnology and that it is 
concerned that the principles upon which the industry takes 
decisions about products are not those it would like to 
see. 
 
He called on the biotechnology industry to adopt "effective 
voluntary measures" similar to the "Responsible Care" 
principles adopted by the chemical industry in order to 
maintain public confidence in the new technology.  He also 
said that there should be more openness during the 
regulatory process. 
 
The conference was held to consider the broader 
implications to human health and environmental safety of 
developments in biotechnology.  An independent survey 
published today by food multinational Unilever, 
environmental group the Green Alliance and researchers from 
the University of Lancaster, says there is "a disturbing 
degree of latent public unease about genetically modified 
foods".  It also concludes that "key public concerns...are 
being neglected, systematically, by the existing political 
and regulatory framework." 
 
Contacts: DoE, (http://www.open.gov.uk/doe/doehome.htm).  
References: "Uncertain world: genetically modified 
organisms, food and public attitudes in Britain," from: the 
Centre for the Study of Environmental Change, Lancaster 
University, e-mail: csec@lancaster.ac.uk. 

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