Meacher calls for GM referendum (30/9/2003)

By Isabel Davies
Farmers Weekly interactive, 30 September 2003

FORMER environment minister, Michael Meacher has called for a referendum on whether genetically modified crops should be grown in the UK.  Mr Meacher told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference the GM Nation? public debate had shown overwhelmingly people didn't want GMs.

But if the government failed to listen and learn from that message the only way to expose it to the full strength of public opinion was to hold a referendum, he said.

"I do think on matters of overriding national interest it is a policy option that we should not reject," he said.  "We are talking about launching something into the nation's food supply which I strongly insist has not been properly tested, either environmentally or in health terms.

"Therefore, I think there is a case for a referendum."

Addressing the meeting held on Monday, 29 September, Mr Meacher also said he was concerned the regulatory bodies looking at GMs were not balanced or impartial.

Too many advisory committees also had members with either current or recent financial and commercial links to industry, he claimed.  Civil servants took members from groups like the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) so the process was hardly transparent.

"I am not saying they are corrupt, I am not saying they lack integrity," he said.

"I am simply saying financial and commercial links do alter the way in which you look at something."

The MP said before a decision was made on growing GMs, full independent testing of the health and environmental impacts of the crops should be carried out.

There should be no commercialisation of GMs until there was a better labelling system and a practical and workable co-existent framework.  Commercialisation should also be delayed until the public registered their consent, he said.

Mr Meacher said he realised if public consent was made a priority in the decision making process some people would argue that it undermined the rules of free trade.

But he argued GM food and crops were an exceptional case because environmental pollution was irreversible and food was very different to any other product.

Mr Meacher also pointed out that under current trade rules developing countries are given full information to allow them to decide whether they want to import GM crops or not.

"If it is good enough for a developing country, shouldn't it be good enough for us," he said.

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