UK government ignoring public over GM foods, says environment committee

The UK government must take into account the views of the public when forming GM legislation and policy, a report published by the Environmental Audit Committee on GMOs and the Environment has concluded.

Endorsing a report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the all-party Commons committee said public views should be sought at all stages of the framing of UK Government policy and legislation on GM foods.

The committee also recommended that farmscale tests be halted until a formal protocol could be drawn up to make the legislative and testing procedures more binding. At present, the moratorium on commercial planting agreed between government and industry is voluntary.

The protocol proposed by the Environmental Audit Committee would set out criteria for farmscale tests, detailing for example, when enough information has been gathered to allow the lifting of the commercial moratorium.

The protocol would guaranteed that commercial planting would not go ahead if there were any doubt about dangers to environmental or public health. The protocol would also be set up in such a way as to prevent the brokering of private deals between government and the food companies.

The government has welcomed the report and said it would be taken into account in a forthcoming review of the regulatory framework for GM crops. In a statement, Dr Jack Cunningham, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Environment Minister Michael Meacher, said GM regulation must be transparent.

Environmentalists backed the committee’s report. Greenpeace Director, Dr Doug Parr told edie: “We support a number of the Committee’s conclusions, but we still think that farmscale trials should not go ahead at all. In the case of GM organisms, it’s impossible to assess the risk without encountering the risk.

“Many of the Select Committee’s findings highlight the need for a complete change in the direction of UK agricultural policy – away from industrialised farming of which GM technology is a part and towards sustainable, modern organic solutions,” Dr Parr said.

However, Dr Parr said he did support the recommendations calling for greater public involvement in the decision-making process. “The Committee has laid down that the Government needs to listen to the public, as the supermarkets and food producers have. With this endorsement of Greenpeace’s view on public values, Tony Blair is becoming increasingly marginalised as the stampede of public opinion leaves him behind,” he added.

“This report only serves to strengthen the need for Government to recognise that a choice needs to be made between organic and GM agricultural futures. Consumers are choosing with their wallets but the Government will remove the organic options if it continues down its current path,” said Parr.

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