GeneWatch PR: Government Still Floundering and Out of Touch Over Genetically Modified Foods

For Immediate Release: 21 May, 1999

GeneWatch UK's response to the government's new measures on biotechnology

Today, in response to wide ranging concern about GM crops and food, the Government announced the formation of two new advisory committees (1) and promoted industry guidelines (2) as an effective way of policing the commercial growing of GM crops.

In his announcement, Dr Jack Cunningham emphasised the claimed benefits of GM crops and foods. However, he failed to mention that a key finding of the Government’s public consultation, published today, (3) was that people do not regard genetically modified food, animals and plants as beneficial to society .

"At the moment, the public does not believe that the benefits of GM foods outweigh the risks. While the Government continues to promote the benefits of GM foods there will be little confidence that they are taking the risks seriously," said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK’s Director.

"Although the new committees will gather advice from a wider spectrum of interests, the Government will never be trusted unless it tackles this fundamental mismatch with public opinion," she added.

In promoting industry’s own guidelines to control the growing of GM crops, the Government has also failed to take notice of its consultation exercise which showed that industry and farmers are trusted very little.

"The public has good reason to be cautious about placing safety in the hands of those with the biggest interest in cutting corners. We need to have a moratorium on the commercial use of GM foods and crops to allow time for a real debate and for properly considered safeguards to be put in place."

A National Surveillance Unit to monitor health impacts of GM foods was recommended in a report from the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser also published today (4). Although no such Unit exists, GM foods are already being eaten in Britain.

"Saying there should be monitoring but not starting it before GM foods were introduced is simply bad science," said Sue Mayer. "No wonder people do not trust the Government to take the risks seriously".

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Notes to Editors:

  1. A Human Genetics Commission and an Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Commission are to be formed, drawn from a wide range of interests to advise Ministers on GM crops, foods and medicines.
  2. SCIMAC (Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops) guidelines on growing of GM crops have been prepared by an industry body which does not include organic farmers.
  3. The Public Consultation on Developments in the Biosciences. Department of Trade and Industry.
  4. Available from the Department of Health Press Office: 0171 210 5233.

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