SnowBall archive



mailinglist genet-news
Below is an FoE EWNI (England/Wales/N. Ireland) PR release concerning a
leaked government memo on GM foods.  The memo referred to can be obtained
by visiting the website <<>>, selecting the
press release, and
clicking on the underlined link.

"Voluntary Moratorium" A Sham
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday 3rd March 1999

"Voluntary Moratorium" A Sham
A key Cabinet Office memo leaked to Friends of the Earth (and summarised in
today's Environment Guardian) reveals that the Government has commissioned
a secret report on the health effects of GM food, from the Chief Medical
Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser. The report will be completed in
April. Officials have considered publishing it if it produces favourable
The memo shows mounting panic at the heart of Government over policy on GM
food and crops. It reveals that the Government lacks answers to vital GM
policy questions: on health; possible environmental damage; the legality of
a moratorium on GM crops; on labelling of food with GM ingredients; and
even on the Government's proclaimed 'voluntary deal' with the GM industry.
Background papers, also leaked to Friends of the Earth and now published
for the first time, show that Government pledges to be carrying out full
testing of GM crops before commercial licenses are granted are a sham. The
Government has said that it will make a decision whether to permit
commercial growing crops after one year's trials. However, a paper entitled
"Genetically Modified Crops: A Position Paper" states that "we have been
advised that 15 to 25 paired comparisons will be necessary to gather
sufficient data to be scientifically sound. We had hoped to start with this
many in Spring 1999, however this is not possible... Therefore in Spring
1999 there will be only two field-scale plantings for each GM crop." This
shows that the Government cannot collect sufficient evidence for a proper
scientific judgment within one year.

The Cabinet Office memo, classified as "Restricted: Policy" is dated 19th
February 1999. It discusses 

. GM food and health. The memo reveals that at its last meeting the key
Cabinet sub-committee on biotechnology (MISC 6) commisioned a paper from
the Government's Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser on the
health effects of GM foods, which will be completed by April. The memo asks
"What if it shows up any doubts? What can we do? We will be pressured 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 - we do not monitor
consumption of other foods ... Why don't we require a pharmaceutical type
analysis of the safety of these foods with proper trials?"

. the so-called "voluntary deal" with industry, announced by the Government
last October, which will delay commercial planting at least until the year
2000. The memo asks "How can we be sure that the deal will not unravel? ...
The worst scenario seems to be the Government and its advisors (including
English Nature) thinking that there is insufficient evidence to proceed
with plantings but the industry disagreeing and deciding to proceed to full
commercial planting anyway ... What about long term monitoring? Even after
five years, the environmental effects may not be known ... If environmental
damage is shown to occur, how much can we tolerate as a justifiable cost?
Or do we believe that any damage should justify a halt? (The latter is
unlikely to be true, but will be difficult in presentational terms.)" 

. labelling of GM foods. The memo states that "we still have no enforcement
mechanisms. Is there a case for accelarating the implementation of these?
When they are implemented, how can we be sure that they will be implemented
fully, and that local authorities will have the expertise and resources to
do so? (Stories like - 'thousands of GM products on the shelves and only
one inspector to test them')"

. the Government line that a moratorium on commercial licenses for GM crops
would be illegal. The memo asks "how can we be sure that our line that a
moratorium would be illegal is accurate? If this proves to be untrue, the
pressure could increase even further". Last week, FOE published a legal
opinion from top international lawyer Phillipe Sands setting out the
grounds on which a moratorium could be imposed.

Commenting, FOE Executive Director Charles Secrett said:
"This leak shows that the Government lacks answers to the key questions
campaigners have been raising on GM food and crops. Mr Cunningham and his
officials do not know what to do if GM food is shown to be unsafe. They do
not know how to react to evidence of environmental damage. They do not know
how to enforce labelling rules. They cannot even back up their claim that a
five year moratorium on GM crops would be illegal. Background papers leaked
to Friends of the Earth even show that all Government claims to be carrying
out scientifically valid trials of GM crops before granting them licenses
are a sham. 

Tony Blair promised to put the environment at the heart of Government. But
what we have instead is a genetically-modified shambles at the centre of
policy-making. Surely no Government Minister can now have the nerve to
claim to the public that GM policy is safe in their hands." 


Gill Lacroix
Friends of the Earth Europe
Biotechnology Programme
The United States and its allies "wanted an agreement without any
environmental credibility" : EU Environment Commission Ritt Bjerregaard on
the failure of the Biosafety Protocol negotiations (Financial Times,
Genet News