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Tuesday, August 4, 1998 Published at 23:35 GMT 00:35 UK

UK Politics

GM food banned from Commons

The government still issues licences for genetically modified crop tests

Genetically-modified food has been banned from restaurants and bars in the House of Commons.

Full-time catering managers have decided to avoid using genetically-modified (GM) food - developed from crops given genes from other species - until more is known about the long-term effects.

The ban has led to accusations of double standards since the government is still issuing licences for GM crop tests.

Some MPs have complained that they were not consulted about the decision.

In a recent parliamentary answer, Dennis Turner, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons catering committee, revealed managers had decided wherever possible they would avoid using GM food.

Mr Turner has called for the Agriculture Select Committee to hold an inquiry into genetically modified food.

He said the decision was not an absolute ban and stressed it was not always possible to tell from labels whether food had been modified.

[ image: Food for thought: Genetically modified crops]
Food for thought: Genetically modified crops
But another Labour member of the Catering committee, Lindsay Hoyle, complained MPs had not been consulted.

Mr Hoyle said he was "appalled" by what had happened and called for the committee to debate the affair.

The Chorley MP said that the decision had been "taken by officers of the catering committee without any reference to MPs".

"They decided it was in the best interests of MPs not to have the food. The committee had never discussed it - that's the real issue."

There are more than 30 bars and restaurants in the Palace of Westminster.

Mr Turner insisted he did not want to protect or coccoon MPs and said the whole country - not just the House of Commons - needed proper advice.

Inquiry move welcomed

The move at the Commons has been welcomed by the Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker, who originally questioned the use of the food.

But he warned that people were already eating genetically modified food without realising it.

"We have stuff coming into this country which is not segregated at source, so it is not possible to say whether it is GM-free.

"Unless the government challenges the practices of the biotech companies, we will be flooded with these foods."

'Double standards'

A food and biotech campaigner from Friends of the Earth, Pete Riley, expressed digust at what he said were parliamentary double standards.

"Genetically engineered foods are banned from parliament yet they are being forced on the general public despite the fact that opinion polls show they don't want them.

"The government should listen to the growing clamour and call a moratorium on the development of these controversial crops until it can proved that they are safe."

Hugh Warwick, of the Genetics Forum think-tank, said the MPs' action was "outrageous".

"This shows hypocrisy at the heart of government. MPs have decided they want nothing to do with genetically modified food while ministers are denying the public this choice.

"Instead, they are sanctioning genetically modified crop trials."

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