For immediate release: Thursday 12th February 2004
GeneWatch UK has obtained a copy of the leaked minutes of the Cabinet Office Ministerial Sub-Committee on Biotechnology (SCI(BIO)) meeting held on Tuesday 10th February to agree Government policy on GM crop growing in the UK (1).
The minutes reveal that the Government is determined to allow GM crop commercialisation to proceed with some restricted safeguards (2,3). There is considerable anxiety in Government about how the public and MPs will react. A presentational strategy for the public and through briefing sympathetic MPs in advance of a statement to Parliament is discussed. This includes using examples of where GM crops are used in developing countries and in aid projects.
At the same meeting, a strategy to promote the biotechnology industry in Europe was discussed (4).
"The Government has disregarded the findings of the public debate where people said they did not want GM crop commercialisation now. The proposed conditions on growing are limited and will not protect the non-GM market," said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch's Director. "Trying to persuade people that by growing GM crops here we will help developing countries is misleading and amounts to moral blackmail. Growing patented GM crops in Britain will help the biotechnology industry and also maintain their interests in the control of the technology. It has nothing to do with feeding the hungry. "
"By also developing a strategy to promote biotechnology in Europe, the Government has nailed its colours to the mast - the biotech industry comes first," said Dr Mayer. "They even want to side-step debate on ethical issues in Europe where this might harm the industry. It's quite shocking how far the Government seems prepared to go to see biotechnology advanced".
Please contact Sue Mayer on 01298 871898 (office) or 07930 308807 (mobile)
Notes to Editors:
- The Sci(Bio) committee co-ordinates Government policy on biotechnology across departments. Two items were on the agenda:
- Genetically modified crops and the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops
- A strategy to promote the effectiveness of the biotechology industry
- GeneWatch has prepared a briefing on the minutes and their implications. This is available on www.genewatch.org.
- In relation to GM crop commercialisation, the main issues covered in the meeting include that:
- GM crop commercialisation is to go ahead subject to consultation on co-existence measures and following the advice of the Advisory Committee on Release to the Environment which has given GM maize a positive assessment and spring oilseed rape and beet negative assessments;
- "The public was unlikely to be receptive" and a communications/presentational strategy was needed;
- co-existence measures (the rules governing how GM crops are grown in an effort to limit contamination of non-GM and organic crops) should be statutory;
- a level of 0.9% contamination was the aim - "a lower threshold for organic should not be ruled out immediately". No protection for non-GM farmers wishing to work to a zero threshold is proposed;
- compensation for contamination via a non-statutory compensation fund might be needed but this should be the responsibility of the GM industry, not Government;
- co-existence arrangements in the devolved administrations might take longer as the National Assembly of Wales was still considering its options;
- a statement would be made by the Secretary of State for the Environment in the House of Commons during the week beginning 23rd February 2003. "The ground should be prepared with key MPs with an interest in science or food security in developing countries".
4. In relation to the strategy to promote the biotechnology industry, the main issues were:
- raising issues of healthcare and ethics could be counterproductive' for the biotechnology industry and might need to be excluded from the EU wide strategy and handled at a national level;
- 'cumbersome' European regulations were hampering the competitiveness of the industry;
- the benefits of biotechnology should be promoted to the public;
- European Health Ministers' focus on reducing drug costs rather than 'taking a strategic view of the pharmaceutical industry', might need a 'steer' in the opposite direction;
- deregulation opportunities should be explored.
- Extracts from the minutes:
"However, by ignoring calls for a complete ban, the Government would inevitably be accused of failing to listen to the views of the public".
"Nevertheless, the public was unlikely to be receptive. Securing its confidence in the new EU-wide regulatory regime was key. Careful presentation in the policy statement of the new EU focus on evidence-based decision-making, under the guidance of the European Food Standards Agency, could help. There were also advantages in drawing on regulatory practice from elsewhere, particularly developing countries such as India. The Department for International Development might be encouraged to provide examples of relevant aid projects".
"Ahead of the planned policy statement to Parliament, there was merit in preparing the ground with key MPs, particularly those with an interest in science or food in developing countries".