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Food Standards Agency hides unanimous findings of citizensí jury that GM crops should not be grown in the UK now (9/5/2003)

9 May 2003

Food Standards Agency hides unanimous findings of citizens’ jury that GM crops should not be grown in the UK now
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Food Spin Agency caught out again
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Food Standards Agency hides unanimous findings of citizens’ jury that GM crops should not be grown in the UK now – Genewatch UK challenges the FSA to come clean
GENEWATCH UK
PRESS RELEASE 9 May, 2003
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Today, GeneWatch UK has written to Dr John Bell, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency (1), asking why it has failed to reveal the unanimous finding of its Citizens Jury that (2):

"More time is needed to understand the long-term environmental implications of GM crops before farmers start to grow them in the UK - growing GM crops in the UK would be irreversible and might eventually reduce choice"

This part of the Jury's verdict, only revealed in a report circulated to witnesses yesterday, was excluded from the FSA's Press Release on 7th April announcing the results and headlined "FSA Citizens' Jury says GM food should be available to buy in the UK". Dr John Bell, in a debate with Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch's Director, on the BBC programme 'You and Yours' on 8th April also failed to refer to this finding (4).

"I have written to Dr John Bell to ask why the FSA was so selective in its representation of the verdict of its Citizens' Jury. The imminent decision on the commercial growing of GM crops in the country is of great importance and the views of the public should be represented fully", said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch's Director. "The FSA seems to be more interested in spin than full presentation of the facts".

"I gave evidence to the Citizens' Jury in good faith and am disturbed that the findings are being distorted. This selective presentation of the verdict undermines all the hard work and effort the Jury put into its deliberations. The Jury was unanimous that GM crops should not be grown in the UK at present and split on whether GM foods should be available to buy in the shops. Why did the FSA headline only the majority and not all the unanimous findings? " said Dr Mayer.

For more information contact Sue Mayer on 01298 871898 (office) or 07930 308807 (mobile).
Notes to editors
1. The text of the letter to Dr John Bell is attached below.
2. FSA Citizens' Jury. Should GM Food be Available to Buy in the UK? Final Report. Opinion Leader Research. April 2003. Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch's Director, gave evidence to the Jury on 4th April.
3.
http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/citizensjury_result?view=GM%20Microsite
4. The comments made by Dr John Bell on 'You and Yours' on Tuesday 8th April in relation to the jury verdict were: "Yes well the jury decided by a majority of nine to six that GM food should be available to buy in the UK." And:  "They did say that there should be effective labelling and monitoring of foods and for instance they suggested that perhaps a, a GM food logo should be attached to food so that people could make that choice.  They also said that they were confident in the safety measures and while some anti GM concerns they considered were perfectly valid they thought there did have to be a choice for people.  If they wanted to buy they should be able to."

TEXT OF LETTER TO DR JOHN BELL
9 May, 2003
Dr John Bell
Chief Executive
Food Standards Agency
Aviation House
125 Kingsway
London
WC2B 6NH
BY FAX AND MAIL

Dear Dr Bell,

Re: Food Standards Agency's Citizens' Jury: Should GM foods be available to buy in the UK?

I am writing to raise my concerns with you over the way in which the FSA has presented the findings of it's Citizens' Jury. It appears that the FSA has concealed some important issues of direct relevance to the current public debate on whether GM crops should be grown commercially in the UK. I was astonished to read yesterday, when I finally received a complete version of the findings of the Citizens' Jury, that there was unanimous agreement that:
- More time is needed to understand the long-term environmental implications of GM crops before farmers start to grow them in the UK
- Growing GM crops in the UK would be irreversible and might eventually reduce choice

Neither in the FSA's press release of the 7th April announcing the findings, or during our discussion on the radio programme 'You and Yours' on 8th April was this mentioned by yourself.  Rather the press release said among other things: "A number of jurors expressed concerns about the long-term safety of GMOs, ethical concerns, and the environmental impact of growing GM crops in the UK."

On 'You and Yours' you presented the findings as: "Yes well the jury decided by a majority of nine to six that GM food should be available to buy in the UK."

And:
"They did say that there should be effective labelling and monitoring of foods and for instance they suggested that perhaps a, a GM food logo should be attached to food so that people could make that choice.  They also said that they were confident in the safety measures and while some anti GM concerns they considered were perfectly valid they thought there did have to be a choice for people.  If they wanted to buy they should be able to." Even this morning, the full report and text of the Citizens' Jury verdict is not available on your web site.

I wonder why the FSA chose not to reveal this particular dimension of the findings of their Citizens' Jury?  It raises the suspicion that the FSA was more interested in 'spinning' the results to fit its own prejudices rather than representing them fully.  Given the political importance of, and public interest in, the imminent decision on the commercial growing of GM crops in the country, the unanimous verdict that more time is needed before commercial growing, should have been included at the very front of your presentation.

Having given time in all good faith to the Citizens' Jury by acting as a witness, you will understand how disturbed I feel that I may have unwittingly been party to a process which has not been presented honestly. Obviously, I wish to see this past failure corrected.  Therefore, what steps will you be taking to ensure the full findings of the Citizens' Jury are represented and conveyed to the media, Government, public debate steering board and the public?  As the new Chief Executive of the FSA, will you make an assurance that the organisation will always present its research findings in full alongside press releases, not just selected portions?

We will, of course, be making the contents of this letter available to the press.
Yours sincerely,
Dr Sue Mayer
Director
GeneWatch UK
The Mill House
Manchester Road
Tideswell
Buxton
Derbyshire  SK17 8LN
Ph: 01298 871898
Fax: 01298 872531
Visit the GeneWatch UK web site at: www.genewatch.org

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