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Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 01:51 GMT

UK Politics

Sainsbury: I will not resign

Lord Sainsbury: No conflict of interest, says DTI

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury has told the BBC he will not resign over the genetically modified (GM) foods furore.

Lord Sainsbury: I have acted without any conflict of interest
Lord Sainsbury has come under attack from the Tories who say he is too close to the issue to make impartial decisions.

They say there is a conflict of interest over his family firm's interest in GM foods. Lord Sainsbury also owns a company that holds a patent on a gene used in the GM process.

Food under the microscope
But Lord Sainsbury, in an interview on BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight, said that on one occasion when the issue was discussed at the Cabinet biotechnology committee, he left the meeting.

'Hounding is wrong'

He also stood aside from any decisions that had a specific effect on Sainsbury's.

He said: "If GM foods are being considered which could have a specific effect on Sainsbury's, then I will not attend those meetings."

Asked if he would resign, he said: "Absolutely not. I am very clear that I have acted totally, without any conflict of interest."

Lord Sainsbury earlier received the backing of Prime Minister Tony Blair who said the "hounding of him is unpleasant and wrong".

Political Correspondent Emma Udwin: "Mr Blair said he won't be hounded into banning GM foods"
"There is no conflict of interest whatsoever, and he has followed the rules to the letter, as he should do.

"Secondly, with GM food, 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," said the prime minister.

Mr Blair - who on Monday revealed that he ate GM food - said it was right for the government to resist the media and the "hypocrisy and total opportunism" of the Conservative Party.

'He is too close'

The prime minister said that "to rule out GM food altogether, to impose some ban would be extremely foolish".

The Department of Trade and Industry has said because of Lord Sainsbury's action there is no conflict of interest with his role as science minister.

William Hague: "People don't know who to turn to now for independent advice"
The government's chief scientific advisor Sir Robert May also insisted Lord Sainsbury had nothing to do with government policy on GM foods.

But the Conservatives say it is further embarrassment for the government and reinforces the reasons why they think he should go.

Tory leader William Hague said: "The basic truth of the matter is that he is too close to that industry to be objective about these matters and we need ministers who are objective."

Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the prime minister should not have put Lord Sainsbury in a position where a conflict of interest arose.

The allegations came as a wide-ranging consortium of 29 groups, including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, joined forces to call for a five-year pause before genetically modified crops can be grown commercially in the UK.

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