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Sunday, February 21, 1999 Published at 02:18 GMT

UK Politics

Sainsbury loan 'pre-dated appointment'

Lord Sainsbury: Appointed "eight days" after loan

The government has defended under-fire Science Minister Lord Sainsbury following reports that he lent money to a biotechnology company after his appointment.

Food under the microscope
The Department of Trade and Industry said a loan he made to Diatech - holder of a key gene patent used in genetically-modified technology - was completed a week before he took office in July last year.

Sunday's Observer newspaper alleges that the £1m loan was completed two weeks after he was appointed.

The BBC's Emma Udwin on the Tories' latest target
Lord Sainsbury, who has been urged to resign by Conservatives over his links with the biotechnology industry, has long owned shares in Diatech but these were placed in a blind trust when he was made a minister.

Earlier, Tony Blair had voiced his strong backing for Lord Sainsbury.

'Unpleasant attacks'

"The Conservatives have waged war on Lord Sainsbury, continuing their peculiarly unpleasant attacks on ministers as a substitute for serious opposition," he wrote in Saturday's Daily Telegraph.

But Friends of the Earth Director Charles Secrett said Lord Sainsbury should resign, whether or not the loan was made before he actually became a minister.

"It is such a clear conflict of interest," he said.

"With such intense commercial activity going on around the company with such a large loan, that is not the sort of person you want taking objective decisions in the public interest in matters relating to those interests."

Charles denial

Meanwhile Downing Street and Buckingham Palace have dismissed as "utter nonsense" reports that a Number 10 official asked the Prince of Wales to remove an article criticising GM foods from his Internet site.

The Sunday Express reported that Prince Charles had refused to change his site after "pressure" from Downing Street.

[ image: The Prince of Wales invites readers to air their views on GM food]
The Prince of Wales invites readers to air their views on GM food
On the site he writes: "We should not be meddling with the building blocks of life in this way.

"There is an important public debate needed on whether we need GM crops at all."

The article, in the site's forum section, invites readers to submit their views.

The government has launched its public information campaign on GM food on the Number 10 Downing Street Website.

Elsewhere in the Sunday press, the government is said to be losing the battle for public support over its decision not to stop the development on GM technology while further tests are carried out.

An Independent on Sunday poll, conducted by NOP, says that more than three-quarters of those asked want at least a temporary ban on GM products, while 60% are unhappy with how the government has dealt with GM food.

Protesters continued their campaign for a ban on Saturday at a Sainsbury's supermarket in Camden, north London.

Police arrested two men after a group of 15 demonstrators took a trolley-load of GM food from the shelves.

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