GeneWatch PR: Should Britain grow GM crops? Michael Meacher opens first public debate

For immediate release Thursday 6th February 2003

One of the biggest issues facing the British countryside will be debated at a major conference in London next week [1] as a group of organisations kick-starts public discussion on "Should genetically modified (GM) crops be grown in Britain?"

Minister for the Environment, Michael Meacher, opens the conference, organised by Elm Farm Research Centre, the Five Year Freeze, GeneWatch UK, and Unilever, in association with The Guardian.

This year, when farm-scale trials have ended, the Government will decide whether to allow the growing of GM crops in Britain [2]. The decision will have widescale implications for agriculture, food and the environment, and could change the face of rural Britain. Yet organisation of the Government’s promised public debate appears to have stalled over the issue of funding and timing. The Gene Futures Conference will highlight the urgent need for discussion of all the issues and kick-start the debate.

"Possibly for the first time, the full range of opinion on this issue will be collected in one room," says Dr Sue Mayer, Director of GeneWatch UK. "Whether we decide to have a GM future can’t be left to closed committees of scientists. This conference makes sure all the options are on the table and cannot be ignored."

From keeping our food safe, the future for UK farmers and protecting British wildlife; from whether GM is vital for our future food and agricultural competitiveness or simply standing in the way of alternatives; from the importance of "being scientific" and the economic consequences of saying "no" to GM in our fields – the Gene Futures Conference will spotlight issues crucial to the UK’s future, its food and its countryside.

An international line-up of speakers includes representatives from leading biotech company Monsanto, the US Agricultural Attaché and Friends of the Earth. Ben Gill, President of the NFU, will advocate the option of an agriculture combining the traditional with GM, and the Consumers’ Association will talk about protecting consumer choice. Christine Drury, from Unilever, will consider the challenges the company faces in meeting the differing needs of consumers around the world. Speakers from India and the USA will report on the impact of GM in their countries - the pros, cons and unpredictabilities of the technology in action.

Questions debated will include "Can science predict the impacts of GM crops and food?", "Will GM crops improve or degrade the environment ?" and "Are GM crops important for agriculture?". The conference also aims to draw out practical choices and the consequences of the commercialisation decision, whichever way it goes.

2003 will be a key period in shaping the future of GM crops in the UK and the outcomes will be influential around the world.

Says Clare Devereux, Director of the Five Year Freeze, a coalition of over 120 UK organisations, "Decisions taken this year could prove irreversible and must not be taken lightly."

"It’s crucial we have a constructive debate," says Unilever’s Christine Drury.

Whatever the public concern, whether it is food, farming, our environment or our place in global markets, the Gene Futures Conference marks the start of public discussions crucial to all our futures. "It is important society considers what they want from agriculture and how that can be achieved," adds Lawrence Woodward, Director of the Elm Farm Research Centre. "The Gene Futures Conference brings all sides together to start the process of thrashing out the issues before it is too late."

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For further information and to organise interviews with speakers

contact Sue Cooper, Media Officer:
tel: 01759 368286
mobile: 07775558395

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Gene Futures: Debating the use of GM crops and foods in the UK. Tuesday 11th February 9.30 am – 4.30pm at the Royal Society of Arts, London.
  2. In 2003 the Government’s farm-scale evaluations with GM crops come to an end and a decision on whether to allow their commercial growing will be made. The Government has announced that there will be a national public debate and new studies of the science and economics of GM crops but no such debate has yet started.
  3. Speakers:
    • Morning Session:
      • Keynote introduction by Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher, Environment Minister.
      • How well can science predict the impacts of GM crops and food? Dr Barry Commoner, City University of New York & Professor Janet Bainbridge, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes.
      • Will GM crops enhance or degrade the environment? Dr Brian Johnson, English Nature & Professor Vivian Moses, Cropgen.
      • How important are GM crops for agriculture? Bernard Marantelli, Monsanto Europe-Africa and Lawrence Woodward, Elm Farm Research Centre.
      • How to provide consumer choice in a global market. Christine Drury, Unilever & Deanna Ayala, US Agricultural Attaché.
    • Afternoon Session:
      • Keynote address by Dr Suman Sahai of the Gene Campaign in India on GM food and global food security.
      • A GM-free UK? Tony Juniper – Director, Friends of the Earth.
      • Managing co-existence in agriculture. Ben Gill, President, NFU.
      • The future of science and agriculture in the UK. Professor David Baulcombe, Sainsbury Laboratory.
      • Protecting consumer choice. Sue Davies, Principal Policy Advisor, Consumers’ Association.
  4. For full conference details and biographies of speakers see

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