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Sunday, September 26, 1999 Published at 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK

UK Politics

Lib Dems talk tough on GM

Charles Kennedy: Surprise intervention in GM debate

Liberal Democrats have overwhelmingly supported a motion to ban genetically-modified crops outright if tests show they would damage organic farms.

The party also backed a five-year moratorium on commercial sowing of GM crops proposed by leader Charles Kennedy.

But environmental hardliners succeeded in shifting the wording of the final motion so it promised the ban in place of an "urgent review" in the event scientific research showed the new technology affected other crops.

Mr Kennedy has made it clear he views the GM issue as one where he can put "clear orange water" between his party and Labour.

In a surprise intervention, the party leader got up on the podium to join the debate - a day ahead of his keynote speech on Thursday morning.

[ image: Anti-GM protests have got through to Lib Dems, if not Downing Street]
Anti-GM protests have got through to Lib Dems, if not Downing Street
He told delegates: "Science must be a servant of humanity. Science must not ever become the master of humanity."

A problem had developed in recent years of the public not believing scientific information passed on by politicians, he said.

"What's been clear in the disastrous mishandling of this issue by the government is that the people don't trust the politicians. They don't trust them because they don't think the Cabinet ministers are telling them the truth."

Mr Kennedy also promised to put the environment at the heart of the UK's third party as he re-models it.

"We've got to be bolder on the environment. We've also got to be more watertight because of the inevitable attacks we get from our opponents on environmental policy.

'Genuine public consultation' proposed

Days after his election as leader, Mr Kennedy published a policy paper setting out the proposals before the Lib Dem conference.

The key recommendations on GM crops are:

  • A reaffirmation of the party's commitment to a five-year moratorium on growing GM crops for commercial use.
  • Strenghtening labelling requirements.
  • Extending segregation zones around GM sites to avoid the risk of cross pollination.
  • Forcing each proposed site to undergo an independent environmental impact assessment.
  • Ensuring genuine public consultation at a local level.

Food under the microscope
The contentious issue of GM food was the main focus point at the conference on a day with no major speaker, looks set to provide the next upset.

Also on Wednesday's agenda in Harrogate was an emergency motion on the "British food crisis".

Paul Tyler MP used the debate to condemn the government's "inadequate response" to the plight of livestock farmers, whose incomes have plummeted to record lows in that past four years.

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