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Thursday, May 27, 1999 Published at 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK

UK Politics

Blair criticises GM 'hysteria'

GM crops have been labelled "Frankenstein foods" in the media

Prime Minister Tony Blair has criticised the way the media has been reporting the debate over genetically-modified foods.

Food under the microscope
The prime minister told the Cabinet that the media was giving huge space to "anything which fed the hysteria" over GM foods, said a Downing Street spokesman.

Positive scientific reports were barely reported, the prime minister told his colleagues.

On Thursday, the influential Nuffield Council on Bioethics said there was a moral obligation to develop GM crops.

A report produced by the think-tank says the new technology could bring benefits to developing nations by helping to feed growing populations.

But it also warns that better regulation is needed to ensure GM crops do not damage human health or the environment.

Cabinet "enforcer" Jack Cunningham, who chairs a ministerial group on biotechnology and genetic modification, briefed the Cabinet on the report.

"He said that despite the hysteria, we now have the Royal Commission, the relevant select committee and now this independent body expressing support for the government's approach," a Downing Street spokesman said.

"The prime minister said it was extraordinary the extent to which the media barely reported reports such as this but gave huge reports to anything which fed the hysteria."

Last week, a report by the Commons and Science and Technology Committee called for media coverage of scientific matters should be governed by a code of practice.

Lords' debate

A Lords' debate on the issue on Thursday heard that GM foods must "be allowed to demonstrate this potential under proper regulation and control".

Lord Reay, the chairman of the House of Lords agriculture, fisheries and food sub-committee, said that after a nine-month study the sub-committee had come to the opinion that gene technology could offer increased yields.

It could also reduce the amount of chemicals used on crops and eventually provide foods that were "cheaper, taste better and are healthier to eat".

Lord Reay welcomed the government's rejection of calls for a moratorium on GM crops.

The proper course would be to hold trials and tackle potential risks and hazards by regulation.

[ image: Peers heard how the UK could lose out without GM crops]
Peers heard how the UK could lose out without GM crops
He said: "Do we want Europe's agriculture to become technologically backward?

"Do we want to abdicate from the technology and leave the US with a virtual monopoly?"

Labour former Cabinet minister Lord Shore of Stepney welcomed the sub-committee's report.

But he criticised the government for "turning down" the sub-committee's recommendation that EU member states should have the right to "opt out of growing certain GM crops for domestic reasons".

Crossing an ethical frontier

The Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Rev John Oliver, said: "I believe that genetic modification is breaking new ground. It is crossing an ethical frontier.

"It can be done, but not everything that can be done should be done."

He said his personal opinion, which he thought was widely shared among the church, was that although genetic modification was in a sense unnatural.

"It may be ethically acceptable providing it is introduced with great caution," he said.

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27 May 99 | Sci/Tech
'Moral obligation' to develop GM crops

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House of Lords

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Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food - Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes

New Scientist - Living in a GM world


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