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Sunday, September 26, 1999 Published at 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK

UK Politics

Blair denies interest in GM

Tony Blair: Tried to point the way to the party in Bournemouth

Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his stance on genetically-modified foods after criticism from within his party.

In a question and answer session at the start of the Labour conference, he argued against the perception he had "got it wrong" on GM foods.

The hostile question won a smattering of applause from the conference floor.

In his reply, the prime minister admitted the issue had caused great public concern, but insisted he had not taken any rash decisions.

"I'm not on either side of the debate," he told delegates.

[ image: The prime minister promised to follow evidence on GM]
The prime minister promised to follow evidence on GM
"I'm on the side that says let's proceed on the evidence and have a proper and open debate and let the evidence decide it."

He stressed the government had not approved any new GM foods for sale in the United Kingdom since it took power.

Mr Blair tried to counter the perception his government favours the GM companies over opponents of the new technology - some of whom had already staged a protest in Bournemouth.

"We've got absolutely no interest in it at all except that we're trying to do the right thing," he said.

"I don't stand here saying GM foods or any other type of foods are a good thing.

"All I'm saying is that it's important we proceed on the evidence."

He added that the advice to the government from the chief scientist, which listed the potential benefits of GM crops as well as the dangers, was widely available.

Blair defines radicalism

After a day dominated by his spokesman's comment that Mr Blair hoped to remain in power for a decade, the prime minister also insisted he sought power for more than its own sake.

"Our journey has just begun - there is still a great deal we have to do for this country," he said.

[ image: Literacy and numeracy strategies are radical politics, Blair said]
Literacy and numeracy strategies are radical politics, Blair said
"We cannot finish what we've started unless we are given the opportunity to carry on making the reforms that they need."

But he again insisted he would not allow his party to repeat the mistakes he perceives it has made in the past of spending too much money.

"I want the money coming into the health service ... to be sustained year on year in the future so that it can get the investment it needs."

Mr Blair appealed to traditional Labour supporters not to desert the party.

He described New Labour's approach as "traditional values in a modern setting - it doesn't mean the abandonment of our values".

Mr Blair described the government's initiatives on literacy and numeracy as "radical" politics for the end of the 20th century.

"I'm content and want to be known as a radical ... because I can actually see things happening on the ground."

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