ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
19 June 2002


1. Letters to the Editor
2. Keep ministers away from GM debate


1. Letters to the Editor,,59-330295,00.html
THE TIMES, June 18, 2002

Advancing the debate on GM crops
From Professor Emeritus J. H. Edwards, FRS

Sir, The Prime Minister's statement that "in GM crops I can find no serious evidence of health risks" (report, June 12) does not help the GM cause.

The major problem with GM crops is that, with widespread use of a single, genetically identical crop, it is only a matter of time, perhaps decades, before some insect or fungus develops a mutation and wipes out the entire crop. The risk may be small but can be neither ignored nor estimated.

There is no way in which resistant seed could be developed and produced in quantity in less than a few years.

Yours faithfully,
(Emeritus Professor of Genetics, Oxford University),
78 Old Road, Oxford OX3 7LP.
June 12.
From Professor Malcolm Grant

Sir, The Prince of Wales's comments on GM crops are timely, as is the Government's commitment to an informed national debate on the possible commercialisation of GM crops in this country before decisions are taken.

The independent commission that I chair, which has wide representation on it from all the perspectives on this complex issue, has reported to the Government with proposals for a programme of events and activities to give a voice to people not normally asked for their views. We suspect that public views on GM crops are more subtle and varied than is often assumed. We think a debate will bring this out.

We need above all to move on from the old polarised positions. If as a society we are to respond appropriately to the issues thrown up by modern biotechnology, the Government must pay careful attention in decision-making to intelligent information about public views.

Yours faithfully,
(Chair, Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission),
1 Victoria Street, SW1 0ET.
June 13.


2. Never mind principles, bring on the spin...
'Keep ministers away from GM debate'
BBC News, Tuesday, 18 June, 2002

Government-funded independent research is needed to end confusion over conflicting scientific positions on GM crops.

But ministers should be kept "at arm's length" from the findings as their position on the issue is not trusted, a committee of MPs has said.

The MPs called for an independent panel of scientists to review research in an effort to raise the "quality" of public knowledge and fuel debate.

'Independent' debate

Their report also called on "those with entrenched views and vested interests, and the media, to approach the debate in a responsible manner".

The recommendations are contained in a report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

It calls for field trials to be conducted using more consumer-friendly crops to better illustrate the commercial value of genetic modification.

Previous field trials - which have used maize, oil seed rape and beet - are unlikely to capture the public's imagination, it argued.

"We agree that public mistrust of its intentions in respect of GM crops and food requires that the programme of public debate should be conducted independently of government," the report says.
The committee backed the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), which has said the public debate should be kept at "arm's length from the government".

The AEBC was set up in 2000 to advise the government on biotechnology issues, including the social and commercial impact.

'Consumer relevant'

The report went on: "It is unfortunate that the crops chosen for use in farm-scale evaluations are not directly used by consumers.

"Debate about the farm-scale evaluations is therefore likely to focus on alleged risks associated with GM technology without the balance of any concrete example of substantial examples of consumer benefits.

"As a result, the public looking at the outcomes of the farm-scale evaluations alone, is unlikely to perceive much advantage of proceeding to commercial exploitation of GM crops.

"This ensures that the debate will be about principles and hypotheses not concrete consumer-relevant United Kingdom data, making it all the harder to involve the wider public."

It added: "We recommend as a matter of priority that the government address the question of the need to rebuild public confidence in science as an instrument of public policy, without which it will be extremely difficult to have a well informed public consultation and debate on matters such as the future of GM technology."

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