ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

19 April 2002


Patience Wheatcroft
The Times (London), April 17, 2002

SUSPICIOUS minds looked at the 300 per cent increase in the government grant to the Sainsbury Laboratory and pondered whether this might be linked to the fact that Lord Sainsbury of Turville is the Science Minister.

They ventured to suggest that the [Pounds] 9 million that Lord Sainsbury has donated to Labour Party funds might just have stood his lab in good stead when it came to receiving government handouts.

Tony Blair did not even bother to put on a hurt expression and query how anyone could make such dastardly suggestions of his Administration. Instead, the Government merely ignored the allegations, confident that a Budget and the excitement surrounding it would soon push the Sainsbury issue out of the headlines.

Superficially, a [Pounds] 9 million investment to win a grant of Pounds 1.2 million does not look particularly financially astute. But then the dire results of the then David Sainsbury's reign as chief executive of the family supermarket group did not testify to a particularly strong business acumen.

But there is genuine reason for concern over Lord Sainsbury's involvement with the Government and it goes far beyond the financial. The peer has two passions: politics and genetically modified food. The Sainsbury Laboratory researches genetically modified crops. There has been plentiful evidence that a large donation to Labour can buy an audience with people of influence and, apparently, the wielding of that influence in a helpful manner.

One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that Lord Sainsbury may be a powerful advocate within Government for the cause of GM foods. The Cabinet is said to be divided over the issue of GM crops, with one faction keen to block prolonged public consultation on the issue. A Science Minister whose laboratory is in the forefront of GM science is unlikely to be sitting on the fence over this one and those who are anxious to keep funds flowing into Labour coffers will be inclined to listen to his views.

When Lord Sainsbury first went into Government there were public concerns over potential conflicts of interest. The huge holding of Sainsbury shares that takes him into the ranks of Britain's richest men had to be shuffled into a blind trust. Lord Sainsbury, tacitly acknowledging that although the trust would be blind he would be unlikely to forget he had it, insisted that he would absent himself from decisions that might affect his interests. Yet science issues are bound to impact on one of the country's largest supermarkets and laboratories looking into GM crops.

Lord Sainsbury may like politics but he is surely conflicted out.

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