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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 14:32 GMT
GM debate 'to include crop trials'
Police advance on protesters   PA
GM confrontation: Feelings run high over possible risks
Results of controversial field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops look set to be included in a public debate on the issue.

There was widespread anger when it looked as though the public consultation on the issue would take place before the results of the trials were due out in July this year.

What I would prefer to do is have the broad debate on GM

Professor Malcolm Grant
Friends of the Earth (FoE) claimed leaving the crop trials out of the review made it a pointless exercise.

But now Professor Malcolm Grant - the man with the job of getting the public talking about GM food - has urged the government to delay the start of the debate because of his "deep concerns" about funding for it.

Professor Grant, chairman of the independent Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, said ministers had offered to "double the budget" for the debate, provided Scotland and Wales could be included in it.

Concerns

But the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly did "not want to get mixed up" in a public debate in the run up to their elections on 1 May, said Professor Grant.

The result of delaying the start of the debate until after the elections will be that results from the crop trials will become part of the discussions, he said.

"What I would prefer to do is have the broad debate on GM," Prof Grant told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Margaret Beckett
Beckett: Wants an open and balanced discussion
"And my suspicion is that during the time that that is going on, there will be widespread speculation about the results from the crop trials.

"We anticipate that they are going to be published in mid-July, and the programme I am now proposing to ministers will provide an opportunity for those data to be brought into the debate and be wrapped up into the final report that we can give to the government.

"So we have listened to that concern and we are doing our very best to accommodate it."

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said it was up to Secretary of State Margaret Beckett to decide whether she will agree to the delay.

'Risky' strategy

The department has offered an additional 200,000 to the budget of 250,000 in order for the debate to be "meaningful, far reaching and credible", the spokesman said.

Professor Grant dismissed the argument that Prime Minister Tony Blair had already made up his mind about the commercial production of GM food.

"I am not persuaded - and I wouldn't have been doing the job if I were," he said.

"The government have written to me, saying that they have an open mind and saying that they are going to take the results of the debate seriously and that they are going to respond to it in the public domain.

"I'm not a politician - I'm an independent chairman of the debate.

"I think the government has taken a very high risk on this - setting up an independent board, giving it the money and telling it to get on with it and that's what we are going to do."

'More research needed'

Sue Davies, principal policy adviser at the Consumers' Association, welcomed the push for a delay in the public debate, but stressed that results from the crop trials "will not provide an accurate assessment of the effects of GM".

"Much more research is still needed - consumer concerns have been dismissed for far too long," she said.

"GM crops could be grown in the UK as early as next year... yet our research shows that just 32% of people think this should happen."

Last summer, Mrs Beckett unveiled details of the debate, stressing that she wanted a "genuinely open and balanced discussion" to help people make up their minds on the issues surrounding GM crops.

In November, Professor David King, the government's chief scientist, defended the exclusion of GM crop trial results in the general review, stressing that they were just a small part of the overall science.

See also:

29 Nov 02 | Politics
26 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
20 Nov 02 | Scotland
11 Sep 02 | Scotland
26 Jul 02 | Politics
26 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


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