Blair forced to scale back his plan to introduce GM farming (24/8/2003)

*Blair forced to scale back his plan to introduce GM farming
*GM-free zone call to councils
Blair forced to scale back his plan to introduce GM farming
By Geoffrey Lean and Jo Dillon
Independent on Sunday, 24 August 2003

Tony Blair is drastically scaling down his plans to introduce GM farming in Britain in the wake of the Hutton inquiry, the Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Senior officials at the centre of the issue concede that the Prime Minister has accepted that it would be politically "too risky" to force through widespread commercial planting of GM crops in the teeth of public opposition, following the catastrophic collapse in public trust following the Iraq War and Dr David Kelly's apparent suicide.

The Government's formal decision on the technology, expected next month, will now not be taken before the end of the year "at the earliest", official sources say. And ministers and officials are now going out of their way to insist that the Prime Minister is not "gung-ho" about it, even though his personal enthusiasm - coupled with attacks on GM sceptics as "anti-science" - has long defined the Government's position.

The Prime Minister was in Chequers this weekend preparing himself for his appearance before the Hutton Inquiry on Thursday.

In response to intense pressure as the Hutton Inquiry continues to lay bare the inner workings of the Blair government, the Prime Minister is changing his tactics. His new plan, sources say, is to secure a limited and heavily regulated introduction of some GM crops - rather than the previously expected blanket approval - in the hope of expanding them later. But there is concern in Whitehall that even this may be unachievable.

Ministers and officials have been shocked by the extent of public opposition revealed by the Government's "public debate" on GM over the last few months. Originally denounced by critics as a sham, it has in fact stimulated over 600 public meetings around Britain, and led to 36,000 people registering their views on the debate website.

The breakdown of the public reaction has yet to be published, but it is believed to demonstrate widespread hostility to GM crops and foods and show that the Government, the biotechnology industry, and the largely pro-GM scientific establishment have signally failed to convince Britons.

Their case has also been severely shaken by two reports from the heart of Government last month, which ministers originally believed would give them a green light.

The first, from the Cabinet Office, concluded that growing GM crops would provide no immediate benefit to consumers or the economy, exploding the Prime Minister's repeated insistence that they were economically essential.

The second - by a scientific panel led by Dr David King, the government's chief scientist - concluded that it would be impossible to grow some GM crops without them contaminating organic produce, reinforcing mounting ministerial concern about alienating the rapidly growing numbers of consumers opting for the chemical-free food.

Meanwhile the third leg of the Government's case - that GM crops would help feed the world - has been undermined by denials by Oxfam, Action Aid, Christian Aid and other charities at the cutting edge of the battle against hunger.
GM-free zone call to councils
Steve Dube, The Western Mail, Aug 23 2003

AN ANTI-GM alliance has called on local authorities throughout Wales to declare themselves GM-free zones.

The campaigners have sent a briefing to all local authorities and National Park authorities calling on them to pass GM-free resolutions.

Regions of Europe are entitled under EU law to seek "geographical exemption" for particular crops to protect the environment or public health.

This exemption could ensure, among other changes, that school meals are free from GM ingredients, if local authorities apply to the European Union.

Fears over genetically modified food crops have brought the Farmers' Union of Wales, the National Federation of Women's Institutes - Wales, GM Free Cymru and Friends of the Earth Cymru together to jointly campaign for a GM-free Welsh environment.

The partners are backed by Merched Y Wawr, the Organic Strategy Group, The Soil Association, Welsh Bee-keepers Association, Welsh Black Cattle Society, the West Wales Ecocentre and the Urdd.

A number of local authorities in Wales, including Pembrokeshire, Flintshire and Denbighshire have already passed resolutions opposing the growth of GM crops.

Now this alliance wants all councils in Wales to join the growing movement across Europe for GM-free areas to be declared and protected.

Commercial planting of GM maize could take place in Britain as early as next spring if the Government approves an application from the manufacturers.

Dr Brian John of GM Free Cymru said increasing numbers of people were uneasy with GM crops.

He said, "They have introduced a major change into the human food chain and the effects on human health are as yet unknown."

"Until proper research, including full clinical trials, has been carried out, we cannot afford to gamble with the health of the nation."

FUW president Gareth Vaughan said the union also believes that insufficient research has been conducted on the long-term effects of growing GM crops and that consumers simply do not want them.

The National Assembly and the UK Government are due to make key decisions about the commercialisation of GM crops in the UK later this year.

The UK Government's public debate into GM food is due to report next month.

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