ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
20 February 2003


For those outside the UK, John Gummer is the minister who fed a hamburger to his reluctant daughter in an effort to persuade the public that there were no human health concerns arising from mad cow disease. For more about Sir John Krebs' crusade on GMOs and organic farming see:

1.More time for public say on GM crops


1.More time for public say on GM crops

Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Thursday February 20, 2003
The Guardian,2763,899159,00.html

The government has extended by three months the period for a public debate on genetically modified crops and whether they should be grown in Britain. The budget for the consultation process is also being doubled, to £500,000, and the Department of Environment will pay for staff time at the central office of information.

Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, at first refused to allow more time or money, despite a letter before Christmas from Malcolm Grant, the chairman of the commission the government set up to organise the debate. Professor Grant said he had not been given enough time or resources to complete the task by the end of June.

The agriculture ministers of Scotland and Wales, Ross Finnie and Mike German, joined Prof Grant's protests and, last month, all three lobbied again for an extension. The ministers face elections in May and wanted the debate postponed so that it would not interfere with the polls.

Environment groups have claimed that the government wanted to stifle debate by completing the discussion before three years of results from the farm-scale trials of GM crops were known in July.

A study will be released that month showing whether GM crops attract more weeds and wildlife than conventional alternatives.

Yesterday, in a letter to Prof Grant, Mrs Beckett accepted that "it would now be impracticable for the steering board to deliver its report by the end of June", and extended the consultation time until the end of September, with funding increased to £500,000.

Sue Mayer, of the pressure group Genewatch, said: "Mrs Beckett's u-turn is good news ... We will at last be able to have an informed debate."


Call for voluntary codes backed
The Scotsman

FOOD and environment regulators yesterday responded positively to a farming industry call for more "adult" regulations.

Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, and Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency, agreed that more voluntary codes could be substituted.

As Krebs pointed out, there is an important role for voluntary action by the industry. For example, it worked when curbing salmonella in the poultry and egg industry.

The point was not lost on John Gummer, a former environment and agriculture secretary, who observed that this had happened without the help of Edwina Currie‚s alarm bells on salmonella.

The two Sir Johns were at pains to tell the annual meeting of the NFU of England and Wales that Britain was somewhere around the middle in terms of EU-15 regulations.

Gummer suggested this fact should be used by farmers to bolster their case for consumers favouring home-produced food, where labelling played an important part.

"I do want a grown-up society in which people are able to make their own choices," he said, citing the case of the ban in England and Wales on unpasteurised milk, which can still be sold in Scotland.

He also took issue with Harman‚s claim to be heading down the voluntary code road. Gummer reminded his audience that he was the minister in charge when the environment agency was established with 9,000 staff and the aim of halving that number by contracting out functions. Instead the number had grown to nearly 11,000.

However, he backed Krebs‚ stand on the question of organic food by refusing to back claims that it was either better for the environment or consumer health and all three agreed that what was needed in the industry to reassure consumers was transparency, communication and accountability.  These were the key factors in the current review of the over-30-months rule, introduced in 1996 in the wake of the BSE crisis, to prevent cattle over this age entering the food chain. Krebs described the OTM as a "pragmatic, rough and ready solution" because 30 months is not a magic number.

But there was a need to retain public confidence. This is why the review, which started last summer, was not being rushed. A report on the deliberations so far would go out for formal consultation in late March after a final public meeting for stakeholders on 7 March.

Analysis so far had indicated that the overall risk had diminished hugely. "However, we must also recognise that there are considerable scientific uncertainties in the risk assessment," he said.

Any new regime would probably involve testing and more reliance on animal passports. This would be less costly than the slaughter and compensation scheme, which cost the taxpayer more than £400 million a year. The trade-off might be a marginal increase in risk.

"Why, when the most urgent threat arising from illegal weapons of mass destruction is the nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan, is the US government ignoring it and concentrating on Iraq? Why, if it believes human rights are so important, is it funding the oppression of the Algerians, the Uzbeks, the Palestinians, the Turkish Kurds and the Colombians? Why has the bombing of Iraq, rather than feeding the hungry, providing clean water or preventing disease, become the world's most urgent humanitarian concern? Why has it become so much more pressing than any other that it should command a budget four times the size of America's entire annual spending on overseas aid?

"...Strategic thinkers in the US have been planning this next stage of expansion for years. Paul Wolfowitz, now deputy secretary for defence, was writing about the need to invade Iraq in the mid-1990s. ...blood is a renewable resource; oil is not." George Monbiot, 'Too much of a good thing' The Guardian, February 18, 2003,5673,897814,00.html

"Blair's not listening to us anymore - he's just listening to Bush and Big Business". A comment on the GM 'Public Debate'? No, it was the main message from speakers to the two million at the Stop the War rally in Hyde Park [London].  Robert Vint , GM Crops and War - two struggles or one?

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