GeneWatch PR: The GM debate: learning the lessons.

Embargoed until 00.01 Wednesday 22nd October 2003

GeneWatch UK publishes report on the ‘GM Nation?' public debate.

Today, GeneWatch UK publishes a report examining the lessons that should be learned from the GM public debate, ‘GM Nation?' (1). The House of Commons Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee is taking evidence on the conduct of the debate this afternoon (2).

Based on GeneWatch's own involvement, interviews with stakeholders and comments from members of the public involved with the debate, the report concludes that the debate suffered from a lack of clear political commitment to act on its findings, insufficient funding, and a restricted timeframe. There is evidence that the Central Office of Information (COI), which ran the debate for the Steering Board, did not have the appropriate expertise and competence to do so.

However, an important feature of ‘GM Nation?' was the use of two separate methodologies which produced similar findings and provides confidence in the overall findings of the debate, despite some of the shortcomings.

The report warns that Government must not downplay the outcomes of the public debate. This would increase suspicion that ‘GM Nation?' was never intended to be more than a PR exercise.

Recommendations from the report include (3):

  • reopening the public debate for a period of at least three months in November now that the findings of the farm-scale evaluations have been published;
  • a Government review of the performance of the COI in the public debate to investigate whether there has been mismanagement or incompetence;
  • an Audit Commission review of the spending on the public debate to determine what were the implications of the constraints in funding.

"The public debate was a new approach to public engagement and it is important to learn the lessons for the future," said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch's Director. "For a start, the Government should allow the public to consider all the new evidence published since the debate ended by reopening the public debate. This would be the clearest way of showing that they genuinely wanted to listen to people."

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For further information, contact:

Dr Sue Mayer on 01298 871898 (office) or 07930 308807 (mobile).

Notes to editors:

  1. "GM Nation? Engaging people in real debate?" by Dr Sue Mayer is available on the GeneWatch website.
  2. See: _rural_affairs.cfm.
  3. The report also draws out five principles that should be fulfilled in any future public debate processes:
  • Political commitment: clear connection with policy and decision making.
  • Time: enough time, at the right time.
  • Money: sufficient funding, wisely spent.
  • Expertise and support: using people experienced in public engagement.
  • Information: quality materials, professionally produced.

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