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9 July 2002

PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON GM CROPS 'JUST PR'

One report will be by:

*David King, the government's pro-nukes, pro-GM chief scientific adviser
*Howard Dalton, the chief scientific adviser at Defra, and
*Sir John Krebs, the pro-GM chairman of the Food Standards Agency.

The other report will be produced by Downing Street's performance and innovation unit, led by Lord Sainsbury.

***

Public consultation on GM crops 'just PR'

By Christopher Adams and John Mason
Financial Times, July 8 2002 22:02
 
Tony Blair's much-vaunted public consultation on the merits of genetically modified crops is nothing but a carefully orchestrated "PR offensive", a minister involved has admitted.

The campaign will begin this month with the launch of a "public debate" on the commercial growing of GM plants to run alongside the final stage of crops trials.

But a minister involved in the talks has questioned the objectivity of the government's assessment. He said Downing Street had already made up its mind on the GM issue and the consultation would be a public relations offensive for the biotechnology industry. "They're calling it a consultation, but don't be in any doubt, the decision is already taken."

His comments will anger environmentalists concerned by the prime minister's speech last month to the Royal Society in which he criticised pressure groups "who used emotion to drive out reason".

The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, the official watchdog on GM crops, will also be concerned. It has led calls for a genuine debate on GM crops.

It has slowed down the commercialisation of GM crops by insisting the field-scale trials would not provide enough scientific evidence to justify any decision. The commission is also holding talks aimed at finding ways in which GM crops could be grown without damaging organic farming.

Eighteen new GM sites to grow oilseed rape were announced yesterday by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The results will be available next summer, after which ministers must decide whether to allow GM crops to be grown commercially.

Mr Blair, Margaret Beckett, environment, food and rural affairs secretary, and Lord Sainsbury, science minister, are understood to be in favour of commercial GM development.

But Downing Street is concerned about reactions from consumers and green groups. In a "three-pronged PR offensive", the government will also use two reports expected to be broadly pro-GM.

One report will be by David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, Howard Dalton, the chief scientific adviser at Defra, and Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency. The other report will be produced by Downing Street's performance and innovation unit, led by Lord Sainsbury.

Ministers have disagreed on the case for GM. The Department of Trade and Industry has backed GM crops, arguing industry could lose out. Defra has taken a more cautious line, accepting there are possible environmental problems.

Michael Meacher, environment minister, is a known sceptic. He has argued "public acceptance" is needed.

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