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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
GM has a role, supporters insist
GM protesters
GM opponents have tried to publicise the issue through direct action
Proponents of genetic modification (GM) have defended the technology after a nationwide debate found most Britons were suspicious and sceptical about its benefits.

At 600 meetings, which elicited 40,000 public responses, the steering board found only 2% of respondents were happy to eat GM food, while 86% were not.

Opponents of GM have greeted the report, insisting it only adds to known public anxieties about the technology and must not be ignored by the government.

But Paul Rylott, of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) - which represents biotech companies Bayer CropScience, Dupont, Monsanto, and Syngenta among others - said the report did not pave the way for an outright rejection of GM technologies.

"This report says only half the people that took part - and remember, 99.9% of the population did not - had some concerns. And some can see the benefits."

'Right to choose'

"The focus groups which looked at people's general opinions, and did not include hardened opponents, found results that corresponded to other surveys conducted," he said.

"These show most people see GM offers cheaper food, an improved environment, medical benefits and increased competitiveness in the economy.

"I hope the government take this report into account as well as the economic and scientific reviews and recognise that people are not wholly opposed. I hope they make sure people have the right to choose."

But other campaigners warned the government to heed the scepticism expressed in the report.

'Ringing declaration'

"The government will have to listen," said Lord Melchett of the Soil Association.

"They've now had the economic review saying there's no immediate economic case, the scientists saying there are still some uncertainties, and now the public - in a ringing, ringing declaration - saying we think there are risks here, that we don't want the environment threatened, we want to keep choice about what we eat.

"The government's got to be very, very stupid not to listen."

But the Green Party spokeswoman on the environment, Penny Kemp, said the government could not be trusted to accept the report at face value.

"Of course the government is capable of taking a report that doesn't reach the desired conclusions, and 'sexing it up' so that it does."

'Disingenuous suggestion'

Another Green Party representative said the government should not accept European Union policy which appears to force it to open the doors to GM.

"The government must not make the disingenuous suggestion that its hands are tied on GM by the EU," said Caroline Lucas, Green Euro MP.

"In its defence against the US-led WTO challenge to its de facto GM moratorium, the European Commission has clearly rehearsed arguments based on the right of individual nations to say no to GM," said Dr Lucas.

"The government must hold the commission to these arguments and ensure the British people are able to enjoy the same right."


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