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Brit govmt internal concern about GM foods



                                      
                  By Paul Brown, Environment Correspondent
Guardian (London)                         Friday February 26, 1999

   Government confusion and uncertainty over its policies on genetically
   modified food were revealed last night by a leaked questionnaire from
      the Cabinet Office to other departments demanding answers to 40
                                 questions.
                                      
    It was written last week just days after the Prime Minister assured
    the country that GM foods were safe, and a day before he wrote in an
   article there was no evidence of unforeseen circumstances for food. It
   is clear that behind the scenes ministers were not so sure and wanted
      answers to many of the questions being posed by journalists and
                                scientists.
                                      
    The Cabinet Office Minister, Jack Cunningham, is in charge of policy
   on GM foods and the memo reveals the Government is again asking itself
                   fundamental questions about the issue.
                                      
   Written on February 19, when the Government was in trouble justifying
    its policy to MPs, officials in Mr Cunningham's department asked the
       Departments of Environment, Health, Trade and Industry and the
          Ministry of Agriculture about all aspects of GM debate.
                                      
   They want to know whether the voluntary deal with industry on planting
   crops will work, and if there are any other safeguards the Government
                           can offer the public.
                                      
    Both environment and agriculture are asked whether the Government's
   claim that extending the moratorium on growing crops would be illegal,
                                is accurate.
                                      
   Mr Cunningham's office is also concerned about labelling requirements.
        'We still have no enforcement mechanisms. Is there a case to
   accelerate the implementation of these? When they are implemented, can
                 we be sure they will be implemented fully?
                                      
   Health is asked about human health implications of GM foods, and in a
    paper due in April, officials ask whether it should be published and
     whether it would be used as a vehicle to claim GM foods are safe.
                                      
        'What if it shows up any doubts? What can we do? We will be
     pressurised to ban them immediately. What if it says that we need
     evidence of long-term effects? This will look like we are not sure
                            about their safety.'
                                      
      Agriculture is asked: 'Following BSE, how we can we be sure that
   animal products derived from animals which eat GM animal feeds do not
   contain any GM materials? If we can't be then does this not weaken our
                   position on labelling significantly?'
                                      
     Another issue Mr Cunningham's office wants investigated is whether
   there is a real risk of a trade war with the US on GM foods. Trade and
    Industry is asked: 'Do we need to do a risk analysis of this issue.'
                                      
    Enclosed with the questionaire is a copy of the government position
     paper on GM foods given to the House of Lords select committee on
    October 21. There is also a list of future events involving GM foods
   going through to November this year and what media interest there may
                                be in them.
                                      
    The Cabinet Office said last night the document was genuine. 'It is
    just the Government making sure it has answers to all the questions
                               being asked.'
                                      


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