GeneWatch PR: Industry and Government admit not enough is known about genetically modified crops – But consumers will still be eating them.

For Immediate Release – 21st October 1998

GeneWatch response to Government statement on the fuller evaluation of genetically modified crops

In a dramatic development today, the UK Government and the biotechnology industry have admitted that environmental safety controls on genetically modified (GM) crops are inadequate.

Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, outlined the Government’s plans to tighten up controls on the growing of GM crops when speaking to the House of Lords Select Committee. He also announced that the industry have agreed not to introduce GM insect resistant crops to the UK for at least three years and to abide by a controlled introduction of herbicide resistant crops. Further research on environmental impacts, a stakeholders forum and a Ministerial Group on Biotechnology and Genetic Modification were also announced.

"This is the first time that there has been a public admission that environmental safety controls are not strict enough," said Dr Sue Mayer, Director of GeneWatch, the independent organisation which monitors the ethics and risks of genetic engineering. "But the proposals for remedying this situation are grossly inadequate and fail to address a number of fundamental issues such as the safety of eating GM foods themselves. More committees and ‘forums’ without teeth are not enough. There has to be a commitment to real public influence on how our food is produced."

Dr Mayer went on to point out that the Minister’s announcement does not affect the importing of GM food ingredients which are already found in 60% of foods on supermarket shelves, the majority of which are not labelled.

GeneWatch believes there has to be a full public debate to decide under what circumstances GM crops and foods would be acceptable since they also raise health, social and ethical questions as well as environmental concerns. A full moratorium for a minimum of five years on all commercial uses, including the importing of GM foods, is needed to allow sufficient time for research and debate.

"Consumers will be bitterly let down by today’s announcement," added Dr Mayer. "People will still be eating GM foods whether they like it or not. This is not an adequate political response to concerns about health or consumer rights. While the Government has abandoned its plans for a Food Standards Agency, how can there be confidence in food safety in the UK?"

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