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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 10:07 GMT
GM review ignores crop trials
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A major UK Government review of genetically modified (GM) crops will not include the results of controversial field trials.

The object is that the report should be available to the government and to the scientific community

Prof David King
The study is designed to answer public concern about GM and its impact on the environment by giving the first full picture of available scientific knowledge.

But the government's chief scientist, Professor David King, said GM field trials were just a small part of the overall science.

If they were included in the study they would become the "focus" of press and public attention, Professor King argued, "and that would be completely wrong".

Friends of the Earth (FoE) attacked the move, saying leaving crop trials out of the review made it a pointless exercise.

Anti-GM campaigner Adrian Bebb said: "I think the government is trying to rush the whole process and is completely out of its depth."

But Professor Julia Goodfellow, of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, welcomed the review and urged all scientists working on GM to take part in it.

GM food safety

Professor King is writing to scientists to ask them to contribute questions and evidence-based views on GM via a website ( which is being launched on Friday.

Professor David King
Prof King hopes the review on GM science will be 'open and transparent'
These will be considered by an independent panel of 24 scientists and lay people.

Members include representatives from biotech giants Monsanto and Syngenta, along with their opponents, such as the Tesco Centre for Organic Agriculture and the University of Sussex's Science Policy Research Unit.

The review will consider GM food safety, gene flow and detection, future developments, the regulatory process and environmental impacts of GM crops.

The findings will be reported to ministers in June 2003 to indicate public views and inform government decision making.

Absent results

But Professor King, who will chair the appointed panel, admitted that the outcome of the review will not include results from GM field trials around the UK, which are also due next summer.

"We will produce a review which you can write about... that review will not contain the results of the [farm-scale trials]," he said.

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"It's in my view absurd if we were to focus down on one set of trials in the UK, on one aspect of GM crops and that's the herbicide."

In the briefing to journalists, he added: "If we wait until the results emerge and then include them in our review, that would be the focus of all your attention and that would be completely wrong because it would be a total imbalance to the scientific input of our review."

Professor Howard Dalton, chief scientific adviser at Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), agreed that the field trials were "only a very small part" of the review of GM science, but he did suggest that results from that study "might" be fed into the debate.

"If the timing is right, maybe we can include it all together," he said.

"Whenever we are going to write this report, May or whatever, it might well be the results of the farm-scale evaluations are published by then - we just don't know."

'Unusual exercise'

The review is one of three strands of the debate on the merits of genetic modification.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett has already requested a national public debate to find out whether the UK wants to grow GM crops. The other study is on economic costs and benefits.

Professor King said: "What we are planning to do here is ask the scientific community and members of the public in a rather unusual exercise, and those with an interest in GM science, to take part in a full, open, transparent and informed scientific review."

The probe will look at scientific knowledge on GM at "this point in time".

"The object is that the report should be available to the government and to the scientific community. Also, of course, it will be of direct interest to the public," said Professor King.

"There are absolutely no assumptions about the outcome of the review."

Time pressure

Professor Dalton said it was important to accept that GM technology "is with us".

"It's a technology that has caused some concern by a variety of people, so we are just basically making the information available so that we can all make valued judgements based on sensible, reasoned arguments and not on a variety of hyperbolise."

But Mr Bebb, from Friends of the Earth, said the "rush" to complete the debate before the crop trial results were published was down to pressure from the bio-tech industries.

The government also wanted GM not to be an issue at the next election, he said.

"They have only got a voluntary agreement with the biotechnology industries not to plant GM crops - that time is running out.

"It is quite clear that if we grow GM crops we will lose consumer choice as well as put the environment and human health at risk.

"Until these issues are sorted out, we shouldn't even be thinking about growing them."

Do you think GM foods are safe? Should the results of field trials have been included in the study? Use the form at the bottom of the page to submit your comments.

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See also:

26 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
20 Nov 02 | Scotland
11 Sep 02 | Scotland
26 Jul 02 | Politics
26 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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