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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"In the past Downing Street focused on the benefits"
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Friends of the Earth's Charles Secrett
"The timing is significant"
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Sunday, 27 February, 2000, 15:54 GMT
Blair's GM food shift welcomed
soya dumped in whitehall
Anti-GM protesters have targeted Downing Street
Tony Blair's admission that genetically-modified foods are potentially damaging to human health and the environment has been welcomed by pressure groups.

The prime minister said the jury was still out on the new food technology and that there was cause for legitimate public concern.

Charles Secrett
Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the Earth
Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said Mr Blair's comments were a "fantastic leap forward".

"At long last Mr Blair is listening to the public who have made it perfectly clear that they don't want GM food on their plates or GM crops in their fields."

He said it was essential that the prime minister's words were backed with action.

Freeze on crops

Friends of the Earth wants the Government to abandon the current farm scale trials programme, halt commercial licensing of GM crops and impose a "freeze" on the commercial growing of GM food and crops for at least five years.

Greenpeace, which managed to halt a cargo ship of GM animal feed heading for Liverpool docks after boarding it on Friday, called for a ban on all similar imports in future.

Tim Yeo
Tim Yeo called for action from the prime minister
"Greenpeace has called on the Government to ban GM animal feed imports, which are legally suspect, and to stop all further GM field trials," Greenpeace campaign director John Sauven said.

In an article for the Independent on Sunday Mr Blair argued that the potential benefits of GM technology were considerable.

But he insisted his government was not an unquestioning supporter of GM food, and that its first priority would always be to provide the highest level of protection for the public.

His comments appear to mark a significant shift in his attitude to GM technology.

Only a year ago Mr Blair expressed his "frustration" at the outcry over genetic modification, and said he was sufficiently confident about the safety of GM foods to eat them himself.

Royal Commission

Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo called for Mr Blair to show further evidence that he had had a change of heart about GM products.

"Any genuine change of heart by the Prime Minister is much to be welcomed," he said.

But he called for Mr Blair to remove Lord Sainsbury from any responsibility for the forthcoming Government White Paper on biotechnology.

"As well as being a multi-million pound donor to the Labour Party, Lord Sainsbury has been noted for his family interests in genetic modification," Mr Yeo said.

He also asked Mr Blair to repudiate the comments of Baroness Hayman, Labour's agriculture spokesman in the Lords, that organic farmers will have to find a way of 'living with' genetic contamination from GM crops.

Mr Yeo urged the prime minister to announce a Royal Commission into the conduct of GM crop trials, to ensure "an independent and scientific investigation of this powerful new technology".

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See also:

06 Apr 99 |  Food under the microscope
Genetically-modified Q&A
06 Apr 99 |  Food under the microscope
GM food: A political hot potato
17 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
Farmers 'abandon GM crops'
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