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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 13:12 GMT
Scientists attack Blair over GM
Oilseed rape
Some fear GM crops could damage wildlife
More than a hundred scientists have written to Tony Blair, complaining about the handling of the public debate on genetically modified crops.

The group criticised ministers for not correcting "misleading" reports about GM technology in the media.

They say they have been "demoralised" by the hostility to their work, and said public meetings had been hijacked.

Downing Street said it was awaiting a report from its scientific advisers on GM before it could comment on studies.

False claims

The scientists include Lord Robert Winston, Professor Lewis Wolpert of University College London (UCL), Sir Richard Sykes of Imperial College London, Dame Bridget Ogilvie of UCL and Professor Kay Davies of the University of Oxford.

They say their letter is an indication of the frustration felt by many in the research community.

The signatories said they had hoped that participating in the GM debate would help inform the public.

But they said they felt "undermined" by the government's failure to correct false claims.

They set up meetings which were rallying groups for the anti-GM people, and they were hijacked
Professor Derek Burke
They felt the process of consultation had been hijacked by anti-GM groups, with scientists, in the words of one of the signatories, "hung out to dry".

If the same method of public consultation continued to be used, other technologies might lose out to "prejudice and procrastination", they added.

Downing Street said that it recognised the vital contribution of the biotechnology industry, but said that its approach to GM was a precautionary one.

'Rallying groups'

A three-year trial of GM crops recently concluded that two out of three of the varieties tested were worse for wildlife than ordinary crops.

HAVE YOUR SAY
1 acre of GM crops and 1 acre of woodland is far better than 2 acres of organic crops!
Malcolm, UK

Professor Derek Burke, one of those involved in the letter to Mr Blair, said scientists had not had the chance to put their case properly.

He said: "The fault lies with the politicians who have not set up a level playing field for the debate."

Professor Burke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They set up meetings which were rallying groups for the anti-GM people, and they were hijacked.

"We want arguments based on evidence and what we are getting is arguments based on opinion.

"We are saying to Tony Blair loud and clear that the science community is disaffected."

'Case by case'

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said the government had not commented on the results of the farm-scale evaluation because they were being considered by the expert committee Acre (Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment).

"Acre's advice will inform the decision the government has to make on whether GM crops should be grown commercially in the UK," the spokesman said.

"We recognise that the biotechnology industry is a vital part of the country's economy. However, our approach to GM is based on the precautionary principle.

"Each GM crop application is considered on a case-by-case basis."


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