"On the strength of current scientific knowledge and the overwhelming opposition of our members, the Co-op is saying no to commercial growing of GM crops in the UK. And we would urge other consumer-led businesses to follow this precautionary approach. Too little is still understood about this technology and how it would impact on our environment in future generations." - Martin Beaumont, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, Britain's biggest farmer (85,000 acres of land), a bank and a supermarket chain selling 5 billion pounds worth of food annually.
*British Government Seen Postponing GM Decision
*Britain's biggest farmer goes GM-free
British Government Seen Postponing GM Decision
By Jeremy Lovell
Mon 20 October, 2003 12:44 BST
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is likely to have to wait several years before it sees genetically modified crops being grown commercially, if at all, because of the high political risk, analysts said Monday.
Test results are starting to stack up against the introduction of so-called Frankenstein Food crops, and public opinion is moving even more strongly against them.
"I think the government is going to prevaricate. There will be no decision for at least a year, and by then you are getting close to the next likely election," said Michael Meacher, Blair's environment minister from 1997 to 2003.
Political pollster Peter Kellner told Reuters: "The government will play safe on this until after the next election."
The popularity of the once unassailable Prime Minister Tony Blair has been steadily declining since the Labor Party's second successive landslide electoral victory in 2001, and it has been in free-fall since the Iraq war in March this year.
"Blair has lost public confidence. To go ahead with GMs in the face of all the science would be an absolutely needless own goal," Meacher told Reuters. "It would be explosive if they go ahead with GM crops."
Most of the pressure in favor of GM crops is from across the Atlantic and is being fronted by President Bush.
But that in itself could militate against Blair going out on a limb to endorse GM crops.
"Blair has already done a huge favor for Bush on Iraq and paid heavily for it. His political instincts will stop him doing Bush another big favor, especially as it is by no means clear that he is guaranteed re-election next year," Meacher said.
The government, which professes to be neutral on the issue but which is widely felt to be fundamentally in favor, launched a series of trials of genetically modified crops well before the last election.
The latest results last week on trials of oilseed rape and sugar beet found that they were harmful to wildlife.
That followed revelations days earlier that GM contamination of conventional crops several miles away had been discovered.
"The tests were set up to buy time and allow opposition to cool. But if anything, opposition has hardened," Meacher said.
Major agrochemical manufacturers like Monsanto, who have invested heavily in GM crops, are pushing strongly for their approval.
But The European Union is dithering and the timetable for an announcement by Britain has been steadily slipping.
Even British farmers who have been told there are great cost advantages to GM crops are keeping quiet.
"They won't do or say a thing because they fear a consumer backlash," said Robert Bojduniak, editor of industry newsletter Farm Brief. "The UK industry will simply sit and wait.
Co-op goes GM-free
BBC News, 21 October 2003
The Co-op is Britain's biggest farmer (85,000 acres of land) and sells £5bn worth of food annually.
Co-op goes GM-free
The Co-op has announced that it is banning genetically modified food and ingredients throughout its entire business.
The company, which owns farms, supermarkets and a bank, has said it has taken the decision as a result of a survey of its customers.
Animals on its 85,000 acres of farms will not be given GM feed, the firm says.
And it is banning GM from its entire business after four-fifths of Co-op customers surveyed said they would not knowingly buy food containing GM ingredients
The Co-op will also refuse to grow GM crops even if the government insists it is safe.
The groups move is likely to put pressure on other supermarket groups to eliminate GM ingredients from their food produce.
Tesco - the UK's biggest supermarket chain - already says it will no longer sell meat from animals that have been raised on GM feeds.
In 1998, Iceland became the first retailer to remove GM ingredients from its own-label products.
Last week, a major environmental-impact study of GM crops found an oilseed rape and a beet crop to be more harmful to many groups of wildlife than their conventional equivalents.
The results of the crop trials, although mixed, were portrayed in the media as a massive blow to efforts to introduce commercial farming of GM.
The Co-op survey, done over the weekend by NOP World, suggested 55% of people were against GM with 38% yet to be convinced of its benefits.
And 78% were yet to be convinced that the commercial growing of GM crops should be allowed in the UK.
Martin Beaumont, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, said: "On the strength of current scientific knowledge and the overwhelming opposition of our members, the Co-op is saying no to commercial growing of GM crops in the UK.
"And we would urge other consumer-led businesses to follow this precautionary approach. Too little is still understood about this technology and how it would impact on our environment in future generations.
"Let the science and research continue, but unless or until the case is convincingly made, the government has a responsibility to keep the lid on commercial growing."
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