30 April 2002
GOVERNMENT WARNED GM CROPS MAY CAUSE RURAL CONFLICT
FOE welcomes GM consultation
Government warned that GM Crop decision may cause rural conflict
Immediate Release: Tuesday 30 April 2002 :
The Government was warned by the chair of its GM technology watchdog that conflict could erupt in rural communities if it mishandles the decision on whether to allow GM crops to be commercially grown in the UK.
The comments by Professor Malcolm Grant, chair of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) follow recommendations by the Commission (published yesterday) for a public debate on whether GM crops should be allowed to be commercially grown in this country. Professor Grant told today's Financial Times: "The potential is there for rural conflict, which is why this is about more than food safety." "The Government has to listen and be seen to be listening" he said.
Friends of the Earth today welcomed the AEBC proposals for a national
debate, and warned the Government that it must be prepared to ban GM
crops if that is what the public wants.
Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:
"We welcome these proposals for public consultation on whether or not
GM crops should be commercially grown in the UK. The Government must
listening to people's genuine concerns about this new technology, and make it clear that they will prevent commercial development if that's what the public wants. This must be far more than a government PR exercise."
GM crops decision may cause rural conflict
April 30, 2002,
FARMING WATCHDOG WARNS THAT PUBLIC OPINION IS DIVIDED AND SEES DEBATE AS THE WAY FORWARD:
By JOHN MASON
Conflict could erupt in rural communities if the government mishandled the decision on whether to approve the cultivation of genetically modified crops, ministers have been warned.
Professor Malcolm Grant, chairman of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, the government's watchdog on GM technology, said further public debate on the issue was vital if confrontation were to be avoided. "The potential is there for rural conflict, which is why this is about more than food safety," said Prof Grant. The commission yesterday submitted proposals to ministers for a country-wide debate to obtain a more exact picture of public feeling over GM crops and raise people's awareness of the complex issues involved.
The proposals include making a film to be shown in village halls, parish councils, schools, museums and science festivals.
Field trials to discover the environmental impact of GM crops end this autumn, after which ministers must decide if and how the technology should be used.
The trials had already shown the possibility for conflict between farmers and within rural communities, and this could increase, Prof Grant said. However, with public opinion polarised and with different views within the government, there was no consensus on the way ahead.
"It is not an issue in which a heavy-handed response either way is likely to win ministers friends. The government has to listen and be seen to be listening," he said.
The government was in two minds, he said. "On the one hand there is the strong view that biotechnology is potentially an important contributor to the economic health of the UK.
"On the other hand are concerns about adverse consumer reaction and potential environmental impacts."
At the heart of the issue is whether any framework can be devised that could allow GM planting but did not undermine the viability of organic and other non-GM farming.
Separation distances, aimed at reducing the spread of GM seed, have proved contentious during trials and would be even more difficult to manage if approval were given to GM crops.
Separation is vital but the land lost to production could affect the viability of both GM and non-GM food producers.
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