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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
'Keep ministers away from GM debate'
Greenpeace environmental protesters attack a field of genetically modified crops at Lyng, near Norwich, Norfolk
Protesters have ripped up some GM crop trials
Public mistrust of the government could hold back understanding of genetically modified (GM) food, MPs have warned.


It is unfortunate that the crops chosen for use in farm-scale evaluations are not directly used by consumers

DEFRA committee
Government-funded independent research is needed to end confusion over conflicting scientific positions on GM crops.

But ministers should be kept "at arm's length" from the findings as their position on the issue is not trusted, a committee of MPs has said.

The MPs called for an independent panel of scientists to review research in an effort to raise the "quality" of public knowledge and fuel debate.

'Independent' debate

Their report also called on "those with entrenched views and vested interests, and the media, to approach the debate in a responsible manner".

The recommendations are contained in a report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

It calls for field trials to be conducted using more consumer-friendly crops to better illustrate the commercial value of genetic modification.

Previous field trials - which have used maize, oil seed rape and beet - are unlikely to capture the public's imagination, it argued.

"We agree that public mistrust of its intentions in respect of GM crops and food requires that the programme of public debate should be conducted independently of government," the report says.

The committee backed the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), which has said the public debate should be kept at "arm's length from the government".

The AEBC was set up in 2000 to advise the government on biotechnology issues, including the social and commercial impact.

'Consumer relevant'

The report went on: "It is unfortunate that the crops chosen for use in farm-scale evaluations are not directly used by consumers.

"Debate about the farm-scale evaluations is therefore likely to focus on alleged risks associated with GM technology without the balance of any concrete example of substantial examples of consumer benefits.

"As a result, the public looking at the outcomes of the farm-scale evaluations alone, is unlikely to perceive much advantage of proceeding to commercial exploitation of GM crops.

"This ensures that the debate will be about principles and hypotheses not concrete consumer-relevant United Kingdom data, making it all the harder to involve the wider public."

It added: "We recommend as a matter of priority that the government address the question of the need to rebuild public confidence in science as an instrument of public policy, without which it will be extremely difficult to have a well informed public consultation and debate on matters such as the future of GM technology."

See also:

28 May 02 | Scotland
31 Jan 02 | UK Politics
31 Jan 02 | UK
30 Jan 02 | UK Politics
24 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
28 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
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