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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Prescott trumpets 'benefits' of GM food
Demonstrators protest against GM produce outside a biotech conference in Bangkok
The biotech summit has sparked protests in Bangkok
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has given a robust defence of genetically modified (GM) produce, and attacked protests which he said were hampering development of the technology.

"Biotechnology has the potential to bring tremendous benefits, and I think that is widely agreed," he said.

Mr Prescott was speaking at an international biotech conference in Bangkok, sponsored by the UK government and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The conference has been boycotted by an alliance of environmental groups, which allege the forum is an attempt by rich countries to foist their biotechnology on the developing world.

Deputy prime minister John Prescott
Prescott: Striking a blow for GM crops

About 30 demonstrators, including villagers from Thailand's provinces, dumped rubbish bins full of genetically modified papayas, tomatoes and corn on the steps of the United Nations building, where the conference is taking place.

In a statement, the protest alliance - which includes the local chapter of Greenpeace - attacked the organisers of the conference.

"They are more keen to protect the corporations and their investments while asking the countries of the South to accept the violation of the laws of nature and religious ethics in return for GM crops," the alliance said.

Under suspicion

Mr Prescott acknowledged deep public suspicion towards GM technology, and called on biotech firms to try harder to promote their work.

Activists attack GM crops in the UK
GM crops are still a target of protest
"The public's real concerns must be addressed and there must be greater transparency of information in the labelling of GM foods to allow genuine consumer choice," he said.

The conclusions of the Bangkok meeting will be presented at the G8 summit of industrialised nations in Genoa on 20-22 July.

But opponents were sceptical that the G8 would take much notice of dissident opinions.

The Bangkok conference is due to continue until 12 July, when it is expected to make recommendations on how best to balance scientific and democratic interests in the work of international organisations.

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