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The BBC's Neil Dickson reports
"The government has to decide whether to embrace GM foods or reject them"
 real 28k

The BBC's Sandra Westbrooke
"Observers say they detect a change in emphasis and tone"
 real 28k

Mo Mowlam
"I presume I eat GM foods now."
 real 28k

Monday, 28 February, 2000, 12:22 GMT
Mowlam defends GM policy
soya dumped in whitehall
Anti-GM protesters have targeted Downing Street
Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam has denied the UK Government's policy on genetically-modified (GM) foods is inconsistent, after the prime minister acknowledged they could have the potential to do harm.

Dr Mowlam, speaking at a conference on GM foods in Edinburgh, said: "Our position has remained consistent.

Food under the microscope
"What we have always said is that there are potential harmful effects.

"There is always an element of risk. What is important in this issue is that the public have knowledge of the risks.

"We hope that by labelling and the research being done that that will be the case," she said.

The minister was the keynote speaker at a three-day conference in Edinburgh that is discussing the science, safety and regulation of GM foods.

It is being organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and will report back to the G8 summit of major industrial nations in July.

In a newspaper article at the weekend, Tony Blair said GM foods are potentially damaging to human health and the environment.

'Government is panicking'

This contrasts with the "frustration" he expressed a year ago at the outcry over genetic modification, and said he was sufficiently confident about the safety of GM food to eat it himself.

Mo Mowlam: "Neither for nor against GM"
Conservatives have leapt on the prime minister's comments, claiming that the government was in "panic".

But the prime minister's official spokesman denied policy on GM foods had changed.

He said: "The prime minister has always said that we have to proceed cautiously.

"It is not a question of the government being pro or anti the GM industry, but ensuring that the UK does not lose out and consumer safety is secured."

Earlier, Dr Mowlam said the government had a neutral stance towards GM foods.

She told the BBC: "What the PM said in the article is what he and I have been saying all year.

"We have said consistently that we are neither for nor against GM. We are pro-public safety, pro-health and we are pro the industry."

Mr Blair was acknowledging the potential for both harm and benefit, said Dr Mowlam.

The government's position was to allow the public to make a choice on the basis of scientific research.

"He is of the view that GM foods are safe personally, he eats them," she continued.

'I eat GM'

"Others are of the view that there are still question marks. What we have done as a government is to keep a neutral stance because there are people of many different views on this.

The lesson is that almost every time the prime minister has personally intervened in policy areas he's made a mess of it

Liberal Democrat David Heath
Dr Mowlam said: "I presume I eat GM foods now. I'm quite easy on food but whether I do or not is not the question for me as the minister responsible."

Tory agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo said he believed that the prime minister had been driven by "an apparent wish to see Britain as the GM capital of the world".

"There has been panic inside the government after a year of confusion about their policy and the scale of public hostility towards GM crops," he claimed.

Liberal Democrat David Heath said he believed the government had been put under pressure by the US Government and businesses to enter the GM market.

"The lesson is that almost every time the prime minister has personally intervened in policy areas he's made a mess of it," he added.

"That should be worrying for the government."

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See also:

27 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Blair shifts on GM food
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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