GENTECH archive


Public distrust of the brit government as to GM food policies.

Two pieces and an editorial - not directly stating news about genetic
manipulation - but concerned with the abusive attempts to manipulate the
british public into swallowing all worries about the safety of GM foods,
and the absence of desire by the government to require the taking of
meaningful precautions by the multinationals food producers. 

As you read this, you might ask yourself if the government in YOUR country
can be trusted to state the truth generally, and also which newspaper or
news organization in your country has taken a position against the
spreading of UNtruth by the government - not just about GM foods but about
other matters of public concern. 




People distrust Government on GM foods

By Marie Woolf, Political Correspondent

The public does not trust the Government on GM food, according to its own

A private poll carried out by Mori for ministers, found only 35 per cent
of people trust the Government to make biotechnology decisions on their
behalf. It also found only 1 per cent believed that genetically modified
food was good for society.

The Government is seen as less trustworthy than environmental and consumer
groups, vets and doctors when it comes to making decisions on the issue.

Doctors, who last week called for a moratorium on planting GM crops
commercially, are viewed as most trustworthy. The poll shows that the
public also does not believe the Government will "provide honest and
balanced information about biological developments and their regulations".
Only 1 per cent thought GM food would bring benefits to human health.

The results of the public consultation are particularly embarrassing
because of the involvement of the People's Panel - the Cabinet Office's
5,000-strong "focus group" used to test ideas. The five-month consultation
involved a poll of more than 1,000 people and interviews and workshops
around Britain.

Details of the polling emerged at the same time as evidence of just how
committed the Government is to GM crops, despite public disquiet. A
confidential document from the office of minister Jack Cunningham reveals
that it is trying to recruit eminent scientists to trail its key
public-relations messages.

Tim Yeo, Conservative agriculture spokesman, said that the poll findings
showed that the Government, which on Friday launched a bullish defence of
GM food, was deliberately ignoring public concerns.

"This is very out of character for the Government, which is usually led by
public opinion," said Mr Yeo. "This must raise further alarming questions
about why they are pursuing this pro-GM stance."

n Earlier this month an influential committee of 140 Labour MPs told
Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, that they were worried by plans
to allow GM ingredients in products marked GM-free.

European governments are thinking of letting GM-free products contain up
to 2 per cent of GM ingredients.

"Concern was expressed that food labelled as GM-free could in future have
GM food in it," said Geraint Davies, chairman of the backbench committee
and Labour MP for Croydon Central. "There is a problem that if these
allowances are made there may come a time when there is no GM-free food at



Exposed: Labour's real aim on GM food

By Geoffrey Lean

THE Government's campaign to convince the public that it is determined to
protect them, and the environment, against risks from GM crops is a
cynical public relations exercise. The real intention is to buy time for
industry to develop the crops - and save ministers' faces.

The Independent on Sunday has been passed a confidential document from the
office of Cabinet Office minister Jack Cunningham which provides the
focus, and most damning description yet, of ministers' objectives in the
controversy. It flies in the face of an assurance to the Commons by Mr
Cunningham, who is in charge of co-ordinating GM policy, that the
Government's "overriding duty is to protect the public and the

It also reveals that the Government is trying to enlist "eminent
scientists" to "trail" its public relations "key messages" - even though
Mr Cunningham late last week assured the Independent on Sunday that "there
is no spin-doctoring exercise with scientists".

Sent to ministers, officials and top aides to Tony Blair just over a week
ago by Mr Cunningham's private secretary, the document lays out an
astonishingly detailed strategy for spinning, and mobilising support for,
the Government's announcement of new measures last Friday. These include
establishing two new quangos to oversee GM food and crops; "tough new
guidelines" to manage their cultivation; and considering monitoring the
effects on health.

The document says it is "important" that ministers "adopt a corporate
approach to the announcement" and are clear on what they want to achieve
from it. One of the objectives is "to begin to gain acceptance to the view
that industry should be given time to develop and demonstrate possible
benefits from GM products".

The other objectives are "to demonstrate loudly and clearly that the
Government does have a grip on this issue" and "to reassure, and to knock
down some of the myths ... by emphasising that the Government is listening
to the public, taking steps to boost the protective arrangement, and is
committed to a policy of openness and involvement". Mr Cunningham assured
the Commons that the Government's "overriding duty" was the protection of
public health, yet the document contains just one reference to "protective
arrangements" - and that in a spin-doctoring context.

The document adds that last week's attacks on the work of Dr Arpad Puzstai
- which suggested that GM potatoes harmed the health of rats - by the
Royal Society, a Commons select committee and a advisory body, would give
"his peers a legitimate opportunity to comment on the basis of his work
and provide a platform for them to trail the Government's Key Messages".

It adds: "The Office of Science and Technology is compiling a list of
eminent scientists to be available for broadcast interviews and to author
articles. These individuals should be alerted and be prepared to offer

The Government has been attacked previously for trying to get sympathetic
scientists exposure in the media, but this is the boldest admission so far
that it is trying to co-opt them as part of its PR strategy.

This move appears to contradict an assurance given by Mr Cunningham to the
Independent on Sunday that there is "no spin-doctoring exercise with

Mr Cunningham said: "We have not been advertising for people to come and
join in some government media campaign. It is for individual scientists to
write their own articles and express their own opinions."

...and how they spun it to the world

AT ten minutes past eight on Friday morning, Dr Jack Cunningham went on
BBC Radio's Today programme. There followed one of the most heated
exchanges yet between a Labour minister and a BBC interviewer writes
Geoffrey Lean.

Within minutes the short-fused Cabinet Office minister was angrily
accusing the interviewer John Humphrys of operating on a "Friends of the
Earth agenda" after he had asked why the Government was not introducing a
legally binding code on growing GM crops or imposing a five-year
moratorium. Mr Humphrys insisted he was putting forward the view of a
concerned public.

In fact, the secret document (see above) reveals the Government planned
the interview as an early shot in its most vigorous campaign so far to
reverse the tide of public opinion.

It shows that Friday's barrage of publicity was carefully timed to
capitalise on a week which was thought to give the Government a chance to
"move on to the front foot".

The document shows that a meeting on 10 May, between Dr Cunningham, the
Health minister Tessa Jowell, the Environment minister Michael Meacher,
and the Food Safety minister Jeff Rooker, decided that five separate
planned announcements on genetic modification should be "rolled into one"
to maximise the impact.

The announcements - duly presented together by Dr Cunningham on Friday to
the Commons and at a press conference - heralded the setting up of two new
quangos to oversee GM crops, the publication of two reports on the issue
by the Government's Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser,
and released new voluntary guidelines on growing the crops agreed with the

The leaked document shows that one of ministers' main concerns was to
rubbish research by Dr Arpad Puzstai, which suggested that GM potatoes
harmed the health of laboratory rats. A world authority, he was forced to
leave Aberdeen's prestigious Rowett Institute after be briefly mentioned
the research in a television documentary.

The document says that the government announcement should be timed to
follow the publication of three reports last week - by the Royal Society,
the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, and the
Government's own Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes - which
ministers rightly anticipated would attack Dr Puzstai's work.

The document says ministers must "speak with one voice," and strongly
recommends they "place heavy emphasis on the broadcast media - speaking to
people directly in their front rooms". It suggests Mr Rooker kick off the
day with an interview on BBC's Farming Today followed by Mr Cunningham on
Today. Dr Cunningham did five other radio interviews that morning and
spoke to BBC TV, ITN, Sky News, and BBC Radio's World at One directly
after the press conference.

Mr Cunningham's office said it would work with Downing Street's Strategic
Communication Unit "on an article - perhaps for the Sun and a broadsheet -
in the name of the Prime Minister".

The document also looks at the longer-term, including making ministers
available for "both popular and more specialised radio and TV programmes
such as Country File, You and Yours, and the Jimmy Young Show". An instant
rebuttal system was to be set up to counter reaction by "activists and
other pressure groups".

The document outlines a strategy to try to get endorsement from
independent bodies like English Nature, the Royal Society, the Consumers'
Association and "moderate green groups". "All of these interests will not
endorse the entire package - but if we are able to ensure that they do so
wherever possible, this will help us to tell a good story," the document

In the end it did not all work out as planned, partly because the
announcement had to be moved at the last minute from Thursday to Friday to
stop it clashing with an initiative by Tony Blair on cancer. Many of the
planned approaches to the media, and attempts to get endorsements did not
take place. "The Government," said one source, "is not as well organised
as we would like."




When this newspaper called for a moratorium on the introduction of
genetically modified crops last February, more than 400 readers
immediately wrote to us in support. Hundreds more letters followed. To
date at least 2,000 readers have backed our campaign. Their concern is
reflected throughout the country. According to the polls, the vast
majority are uneasy about GM foods and crops. And, as we report on page
one today, the Government's own research suggests that only 35 per cent
feel they can trust the Government. Our campaign for a moratorium on GM
crops - and for the clear labelling of all foods that contain modified
material - has been dismissed as Luddite, even hysterical. We deny the
charge. But given the dereliction in matters of food safety by previous
governments - and the clumsy spin put on the matter of modified foods by
this Government - it is not surprising that there has been confusion.

Consider the events of last week. First Royal Society scientists dismissed
the work of Dr Arpad Pusztai with its claim that rats were grievously
harmed when fed GM potatoes. Then the British Medical Association warned
that such food and crops might have a cumulative and irreversible effect
on the environment and the food chain. That was followed by the disclosure
that the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Robert May, agreed
with those lobby groups which have demanded that the GM crops now being
tested should not be approved for commercial use until at least 2003.

Next there was the first clear evidence that these crops pose a threat to
wildlife: researchers at Cornell University had discovered that one of the
world's most beautiful butterflies died when it came into contact with
pollen from maize with a pest-resistant toxin engineered into it. Finally,
on Friday, the Government issued its own review of the subject which
declared that there was "no current evidence" that such technologies were
"inherently harmful". It announced a "tough" new voluntary code on GM
plantings. Critics, like the BMA, said that the moves were not robust
enough, while countryside lobbyists said that previous voluntary codes
have proved ineffectual.

Vested interests lurk behind so much here. The multinationals, even those
with no interest in genetic modification, are determined to oppose calls
that sovereign governments, rather than companies, should determine
whether the import of GM foods and seeds be restricted. Such a shift would
undermine the new freedoms they have acquired at the World Trade
Organisation - thanks to international agreements which give free trade
primacy over all other considerations. The Government relies on
"independent" experts, many of whom gained their expertise in the pay -
direct or indirect - of the same multinationals; it then adds to the
impression of its partiality with secret meetings in which ministers try
to spin the issue, even down to trying to fix which "independent"
scientist appeared on the Today programme to support the Government line.

Ambiguities lie behind the claims and counterclaims. It is true that GM
technology offers plants with new resistance to pests, so fewer chemicals
will be needed. But in the case of GM soya, US farmers now use increased
volumes of even more toxic chemicals than before, because the crop is
resistant to them and everything else is not, boosting yields enormously.
It is significant that the GM giant Monsanto earns half its $9bn income
from just one such pesticide, Roundup. Its impact on the vast arable
plains of America gives only a hint of the damage it would wreak in
Britain's tiny fields and hedgerows.

In the Third World it is true that GM crops offer the possibility of
feeding the starving; but they would probably also, like the hybrid seeds
of the green revolution which wiped away famine in India in the 1970s,
drive the poorest people off their land to make way for those who can
afford the new technology. The shanty towns will mushroom.

The key question is: will the benefits outweigh the disadvantages? To
answer that we need more information and less spin. That is why, today, we
again urge the Government to declare a three-year moratorium on modified
crops, and insist that all products containing modified organisms are
clearly labelled. That is not hysteria. It is common sense. It is also
good science.


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