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Bias claim over panels looking at GM crops

By Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent
(Filed: 29/11/2002)

Tony Blair's public consultation on genetically modified organisms was accused of bias yesterday after it emerged that members of the GM crop industry have been appointed to two supposedly independent review panels.

The Prime Minister's campaign to convince the public that GM crops should be grown commercially in Britain involves a scientific review of research into GM organisms, an economic review of their costs and benefits, and a public debate.

But the panel of scientists includes leading members of Monsanto and Syngenta, the two largest producers of GM seed and products.

Dr Andrew Cockburn, director of scientific affairs at Monsanto, and Dr Simon Bright, Syngenta's European head of genomics, are among 25 panel members.

The review was condemned by Friends of the Earth as a farce because it will end before the Government's farm-scale trials of GM crops have finished.

The independence of the report into the costs and benefits of GM appears to be similarly compromised. The panel includes Dr Paul Rylott, of Bayer Crop Science, and Dr Roger Turner, of the British Society of Plant Breeders, both supporters of GM technology.

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----- Original Message -----
From: "FOE Internet System" <nsuser@foe.co.uk> Sent: Friday, November 29, 2002 1:43 AM

Subject: FOE.PRESS.RELEASE: GM DEBATE DESCENDS INTO FARCE

Web version: http://www.foe.co.uk/pubsinfo/infoteam/pressrel/2002/20021129004345.html
Embargo: 00:01 Friday 28 November 2002

GM DEBATE DESCENDS INTO FARCE

Government policy on genetically modified (GM) crops descended into farce again today after the Government confirmed that a major scientific review of the new technology - which will help determine whether to allow GM crops to be commercially grown - will end before the GM farm scale trials have finished [1].

The short deadline imposed by Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, further undermines the Government's Public Debate on GM Issues [2] which is due to begin early next year. The debate, which has three strands (a public debate, the scientific review and a costs and benefits study of GM crops), has already been described by an unnamed Government Minister as just a " PR offensive " [3].

The GM farm scale trials started in 1999 " to study the effect, if any, that the management practices associated with Genetically Modified Herbicide Tolerant (GMHT) crops might have on farmland wildlife, when compared with weed control used with non-GM crops ." However, the trials were criticized because of the threat they posed to neighbouring crops and honey, and because they would only provide a very limited view of the potential long-term environmental impacts of this new technology.

Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Pete Riley said: "The Government's Public Debate on GM issues is descending into farce. The Government told the public that the farm scale trials would provide important information on the safety of GM crops - but Mrs Beckett's ludicrously short timetable for completing the scientific review means that those results will now be excluded. Many people already think that the GM debate is simply a PR exercise. Unless the debate is extended beyond the June deadline this suspicion will only grow."

Notes

  1. Government press release confirms that the Public Debate and Scientific Review will be completed by June next year. The GM farm scale trials (or farm scale evaluations) won't finish until after that date, with the results published in July.
  2. Earlier this year the Government said that it would hold a Public Debate on GM issues. The debate has already been heavily criticized. Many feel that it is simply a PR exercise. Friends of the Earth and others have also called for the period of the debate and reviews to be extended beyond June 2003 to allow all available information and opinions to be integrated. The Government has not explained how it intends to use the outcome of the debate or reviews in the decision making process for the commercial approval for the first generation of GM crops. Questions are also being asked about the independence of the Science Review and Economic Review, following the announcement that they will be run by the Government's Chief Scientist Professor David King and the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, respectively. More information on the Government's GM debate can be found at:
http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/debate/index.htm

[3] Daily Telegraph and FT (9 July 2002).