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Wednesday, October 21, 1998 Published at 19:16 GMT 20:16 UK

UK Politics

Tough controls for gene crops

The new measures were announced to a Lords committee

The government has announced tighter controls over the first commercial plantings of genetically modified crops in this country.

James Wilkinson: There have already been attacks on GM crops by eco-warriers
Environment Minister Michael Meacher and Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker have told a Lords select committee the government will introduce controls to monitor the effects of genetically modified (GM) crops.

[ image: GM crops have been destroyed by protesters]
GM crops have been destroyed by protesters
There has been public concern about the safety, ethics and environmental affects of GM crops, already been grown in small-scale trials across the country.

A new ministerial Biotechnology and Genetic Modification group will be set up to look at the whole issue chaired by Dr Jack Cunningham and a committee of experts will also consider the ethical consequences of GM crops.

The first commercial plantings of GM strains will be strictly limited to monitor for ecological effects compared with conventional crops.

Mr Rooker told the committee: "People might argue about the nanny state but people want the comfort of knowing the government and the regulatory authorities are looking at this on a long-term basis."

[ image: Meacher: Gap in public confidence]
Meacher: Gap in public confidence
The proposed measures aim to provide more information on GM produce following growing consumer fears about food safety in the wake of the BSE crisis.

There have already been attacks on trials of GM crops by eco-warriers who are considered about their effect on the environment.

Mr Meacher said: "The gap between public opinion and what many of the experts in the industry are saying is now very large and that has got to be closed."

Later, Dr Cunningham told the Soil Association's Lady Eve Balfour Memorial Lecture the group he would chair had been briefed to "consider issues relating to biotechnology, in particular those arising from genetic modification".

Dr Cunningham also called on the organic movement to convince farmers of the demand for organic food.

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