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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 08:28 GMT 09:28 UK

UK Politics

GM meetings revealed

Jeff Rooker: "Nobody can point to an improper meeting"

Government officials and ministers have held at least 104 meetings with biotech companies since coming to power, campaigners have disclosed.

Those opposed to the development of genetically-modified food claim this proves their suspicion of a cosy relationship between the government and business interests.

Jeff Rooker: "None of these meetings involve lobbying"
The meetings occurred at both the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment.

Conservative agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo told the BBC: "It does seem an extraordinarily large number of meetings when we're supposed to be in a period when what's going on is the research in this country, field trials and so on, to see what the impact of GM crops might be.

"It's the number of meetings, I think, that has raised some eyebrows."

[ image: Tim Yeo:
Tim Yeo: "In a climate of suspicion it does look a bit strange"
But Agriculture Minister Jeff Rooker denied the information about the number of meetings, which was gained through a series of parliamentary answers, showed anything improper.

Most of the meetings had not concerned GM crops, he said. Some related to other research and 21 had discussed matters to do with pesticide regulation.

"Words have been used this morning like corrupt, lobbying and fraud - none of these meetings are lobbying meetings.

"Nobody can point to an improper meeting that we've indicated in the parliamentary questions."

Mr Rooker said he had met campaign groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth more times than he had met representatives of the biotech companies.

Food under the microscope
He rejected the suggestion the government had become too ready to support companies investing in GM foods.

"If we were being rolled over, it means we would have actually approved some GM food since we came to power, we would have approved GM crop planting and as you well know we have done neither in the last two years.

"So if the allegation is we're in the pocket of the companies then they're not getting much of a return."

Tim Yeo: "It does look a bit strange"
But Mr Yeo said the government was bowing to commercial pressure.

"To rush ahead with commercial planting - possibly damaging the balance of nature in this country, possibly damaging other farm businesses - seems an extraordinary thing to do unless it is being done at the request of the large companies.

"In that climate of suspicion all those meetings does look a bit strange."

Monsanto spokesman Tony Coombes said: "We certainly don't as an industry have as many meetings with government officials as consumer groups and the green groups do.

"Our meetings are in the very great majority with officials and not with ministers. When we go and meet officials we discuss business matters, we are not lobbying."

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