I went to the GM public debate at Birmingham yesterday.

I only read about the Delphi Technique today but I must say the facilitator seemed genuinely neutral and non-judgemental. 

We first watched a video which showed trios of 'ordinary' people in various settings, one for, one against and one undecided, discussing GM topics amongst themselves followed by three scientists - Mick Fuller, Paul Davies and Gundula Aziz doing the same. The facilitator told us the point of the regional meetings was to raise awareness of GM and exchange views which would then be submitted to the Govt.  When someone asked if anyone in Govt. would listen, the facilitator replied "Margaret Beckett said she will respond and I'm taking her at her word". (Emphasis on said)

We were then asked to consider similar questions sitting round tables in groups of 10.  We were given 25 mins. for each topic.  The recorders, who were selected by the group and changed for each topic, were given notebooks to jot down our responses which were collected at the end. The facilitator said this would help them to compile a report of each meeting. He then asked a selection of reporters to summarise the views of each table. These were tape recorded.

A selection of views -

Open field trials are an example of bad science as there are too many variables.  Should be carried out in closed environments.

Health - we don't know the long term effects - what has happened to the precautionary principle? inconvenient research suppressed or rubbished eg Arpad Pushtai's potatoes. In USA gm food deemed to be substantially equivalent to non gm but substantial equivalence does not for example distinguish between a healthy animal and a sick one.

GM will feed the world? - world hunger is a political problem,there is no shortage of food; farmers in poor countries save and exchange seed, they can't afford to pay royalties to biotech co's.

Who will compensate organic and non-gm farmers for the inevitable gm contamination? In the USA biotech companies have no legal liability and insurance companies will not insure them against this risk.

Opinion of two biotech industry employees - we should be prepared to take risks or there will be no progress. Benefits include reduced pesticide and fossil fuel use. We can never guarantee 100% safety in anything we do.

Conclusion - economic benefits will accrue to the biotechnology companies but we will all bear the cost.  Experience in N. America shows that cross pollination inevitably occurs and co-existence between gm and non-gm is impossible. In a few years all the crops where varieties have been genetically modified will be contaminated,leading to reduced variation in species and eliminating choice. The whole food chain will then be dominated by the biotechnology companies.

There were plenty of objections about the format of the meeting and the lack of advance publicity.  People were expecting expert speakers and a chance to ask questions and learn more.  What we got was a workshop not a debate.  We were expected to respond to questions with inadequate knowledge and we were people who had made it our business to know about gm issues.

We were then expected to organise meetings locally at our own expense using their 'toolkit' - the video,a question sheet and response form none of which would be available until at least next week - and report back by the deadline of 16 July.

My  feeling was that the whole thing was a charade to give us the impression that the public's views counted. This was summed up by one of the reporters.  "The Prime Minister is in favour of GM and the majority of the public is against.  What assurances can you give us that our views will not be ignored as they were before the Iraq War?"  This was greeted by loud applause.

The facilitator replied "I can give you no assurances but your views have been recorded".

Julia