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Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 17:17 GMT


UK Politics

'Confidence' move on GM food

Jeff Rooker: Public safety is our priority

The government has acted to try to reassure consumers that genetically-modified food is safe.

Minister for Food Safety Jeff Rooker told the House of Commons the public could have "confidence", despite growing concerns.

The public's safety was the government's first priority, he told MPs.


Jeff Rooker: The safety of consumers is the government's first priority
Mr Rooker said all GM foods passed through "a process of very thorough scrutiny by a committee of experts" before being released for public consumption.

He said that because of the work of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes "no food comes on to the market unless it is safe".


The BBC's John Sergeant reports on the continuing political controversy
He added that GM foods were a development that could be a "huge potential benefit to society" and may stop tons of chemicals being dumped onto crops.

But shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo called for the government to announce "a three-year delay before herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops can be planted commercially".

Mr Yeo warned that public confidence in the safety of GM food was being damaged by the government's "mishandling" of the issue.


Tim Yeo: Current research should be completed before approval is given
He said the only way to restore public confidence would be to recognise environmental and health concerns and ensure decisions were taken in an open way by "ministers whose independence and integrity can be relied on".

The statement follows a scare on GM foods after some scientists argued that the immune system of rats was damaged after eating GM potatoes.

Prime Minister Tony Blair insists the foods are safe and is resisting a ban on GM products.

He said: "This is a new science and a new technology so we should proceed with very great care and very great caution, and with a strongly regulatory process. That is precisely what we are doing."

But many environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, are calling for a five-year moratorium on the commercial production of GM crops in the UK.



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