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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
'National debate' on GM crops
Greenpeace environmental protesters attack a field of genetically modified crops at Lyng, near Norwich, Norfolk
Protesters have ripped up some GM crop trials
Members of the public are to get their say on the merits of genetic modification.

The government is launching a "national debate" in a bid to form some sort of consensus about whether the UK wants to grow GM crops.


What we would really like to know is what are the questions that the public would like to have answered

Margaret Beckett
Last September the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnological Commission (AEBC) concluded that the results of field trials alone could not justify the commercial planting of GM crops.

It called for a public debate on the issue. A senior group of MPs have also urged ministers to take an "arms length" approach from the findings as their position on the issue is not trusted.

The government appears to have heeded that advice and Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett has commissioned two pieces of research to widen discussion.

'Sound science'

Mrs Beckett said the debate was intended to put "a bit of context" into the issue, which has sparked much controversy.

"What we would really like to know is what are the questions that the public would like to have answered and then how can we get access to whatever information is available so that people can make their own judgements," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Prime Minister Tony Blair had urged people to "take account of sound science", she said.

Margaret Beckett
Beckett: 'We do need a proper, well-informed debate'
"He didn't say anything about coming to conclusions.

"He went on to say that he would be very interested to know what the results were in the trials that are taking place in this country and would not come to any conclusions before he knew the results.

"But he wanted to know whether there is any evidence that such crops harmed the environment.

"The national debate is intended to put in a bit of context."

Risks

Trials currently taking place in this country are on crops that have been tested for any risk to human health or the environment.

The tests were limited to what would be the impact on farmland wildlife in growing these crops in greater numbers, said Mrs Beckett.

"It is entirely possible that these trials will tell us that there is harm done.

"If that is so, then the government, clearly, will not approve them, but we do need a proper, well-informed debate."

Earlier this month, the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee argued that government-funded independent research was needed to end confusion over conflicting scientific positions on GM crops.

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

 VOTE RESULTS
GM Foods: Would you buy them?

Yes
 47.34% 

No
 52.66% 

1428 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Talking PointFORUM
GM Crops
Put questions to an expert on GM foods - 1830BST
See also:

18 Jun 02 | UK Politics
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
Internet links:


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