UK May Allow GM Crops over Public Resistance

LONDON, England, May 22, 2003 (ENS): Environment Minister Michael Meacher has suggested that the UK government may allow genetically modified crops to be grown commercially in the UK regardless of public opinion. Speaking on the BBC radio program "Farming Today" on Monday the minister said a ban on transgenic crops would be illegal unless there is scientific proof that they harm people or the environment.

The government’s public consultation on genetically modified (GM) crops begins June 3, but Friends of the Earth UK did not wait for the formal public comment period to express its reaction.

Pete Riley, the organization's campaigner on the issue, said, “The public have made it perfectly clear that they do not want to eat GM food. Allowing GM crops to be commercially grown would threaten our food, farming and environment with GM pollution, and take away people’s right to say no to GMOs. There is genuine scientific uncertainty surrounding the potential impacts these crops have on people, the environment and the food chain. But this government is so pro-GM it chooses to ignore them.”

In April, the largest independently owned market research company in Great Britain, Market & Opinion Research International, released results of a survey showing that 56 percent of those questioned opposed GM food, and 14 percent supported it. Other polls conducted within the past year came up with similar results.

But the UK government, like all European governments, is under pressure from the United States to permit transgenic crops. Earlier this month the United States filed a formal complaint against the European Union's moratorium on GM crops at the World Trade Organization.

Major issues such as the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops and liability for economic and environmental harm are still being debated in Europe and the UK.

Wales, Devon, Dorset, Lancashire, Cornwall and South Gloucestershire have recently taken action to go GM-free. This includes taking steps to stop tenant farmers from growing GM crops, and banning GM food from local food services such as school meals and residential homes.

Some local authorities have pledged to write to the UK government and to the European Commission in Brussels applying, under new European laws, to be excluded from growing certain GM crops.

Friends of the Earth says these actions are the result of its GM-Free Britain campaign which was launched last year. On May 28 Friends of the Earth Europe is organizing a conference on the subject of GM crops in Brussels. More information is online at: http://www.gmfreebritain.com

“Next month," said Riley, "the government is launching its public debate on GM crops. But if it is to have any credibility, ministers must guarantee beforehand that if the public say they don't want GM crops, the government will not give them the commercial go-ahead. Without that guarantee, there seems little point in debating the issue.''

The UK government’s GM policy advisers, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, has been conducting an investigation into coexistence and liability for the past two years and is due to report later in the summer.

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