GENTECH archive


BBC on GM foods

This is where the distinction between SCIENCE  and SCIENTISTS shows up.

The Brit government is stuck in a corner by relying on "our independent
scientific advisers". 

BBC Saturday, February 20, 1999 Published at 10:27 GMT

Prime Minister  puts "science above 'scares'"

Tony Blair has warned that the UK's position at the forefront of
biotechnology could be jeopardised by a ban on genetically-modified foods.

Food under the microscope 

In his most passionate defence so far of GM foods, he told the Daily
Telegraph newspaper the biotechnology industry could be as important to
the next century as the computer had been to the current one. 

But "scaremongering" without proper scientific evidence could mean the UK
losing its lead, he said. 

The government's refusal to impose a moratorium on the development of GM
foods has been under attack after scientists warned of serious potential
health risks. 

Mr Blair has said GM food is welcome at Downing Street. Environmental
groups want to freeze development for five years while more tests are
carried out. 

Mr Blair vowed to resist the "orchestrated barrage" from the media and the
"tyranny of pressure groups". 

If successful GM technology could lead to the development of cheaper,
better foods, while reducing farmers' reliance on harmful pesticides and
herbicides, he said. 

He stressed that the government was committed to consumer safety.  "There
is no scientific evidence on which to justify a ban on GM foods and

Mr Blair's "personal crusade" 

 "If we were to ban products that our independent scientific advisers tell
us are safe, we would send a negative message to the whole biotech
industry in the UK - in healthcare as well as in food and in agriculture -
that its future will be governed not by evidence but by media scares," he

But Mr Blair's message was questioned by environmental campaigners, who
warned that serious questions remained over GM food. 

Friends of the Earth policy and campaigns director Tony Juniper said: "If
Mr Blair really is concerned that society gains maximum benefits from
biotechnology he should do three things. 

"The first is to announce a five-year moratorium on the import of
genetically- modified food and the commercial growing of GM crops in this

"The second is to show that the government is not under undue pressure
from the United States and biotechnology companies in rushing forward with
this technology. 

"The third is to eliminate any conflicts of interest between ministers'
official duties and industrial development of biotechnology." 

Greenpeace director Dr Doug Parr said in a statement: "The stampede Blair
is experiencing is not coming from the media and pressure groups but from
the public at large who want these gene crops and food banned. 

"Blair's vision is simply swallowing the agro-chemical industry's hype and
its justifications which, like its often touted 'feed the world' argument,
don't stand up to scrutiny. 


Mr Blair's defiant message came the day after the government launched a
public information campaign on GM food using the Number 10 Downing Street
Website. [ Try (MichaelP) ]

The Internet campaign hits back at newspaper reports on GM foods. It
insists no split exists on the testing of GM crops between the government
and its adviser English Nature. 

And it rejects allegations that the British people are being used as
guinea pigs for untested new foods. 

The government has also released a letter by five leading ministers to MPs
to put the case against a ban on GM crops and reassure them public safety
was the top priority. 

The letter was signed by five key ministers - Deputy Prime Minister John
Prescott, Health Secretary Frank Dobson, Cabinet Office Minister Jack
Cunningham, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, and Trade Secretary Stephen
Byers - and accompanied by a 50-page factfile. 

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