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Brits Overwhelming Oppose GE Crops

5 to 1 against GM crops in biggest ever public survey

John Vidal and Ian Sample
The Guardian (UK) Sep 25, 2003)

The widest formal public debate ever conducted in Britain has found an
overwhelming percentage of people uneasy, suspicious or outrightly hostile
to the introduction of genetically modified crops.

More than 650 public meetings were held around the country, and about 37,000
people responded to questionnaires, with 54% saying they never want to see
GM crops grown in the UK. A further 18% said they would find the crops
acceptable only if there was no risk of cross-contamination; and 13% wanted
more research.

In a clear message to government and supermarkets, only 2% of people said GM
crops were acceptable "in any circumstances" and just 8% said they were
happy to eat GM food.

"Every single group was broadly negative in its feelings about every GM
issue," said the report which found the numbers opposed to GM outweighed
those who may support it by 5 to 1.

The environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, promised to take the results
seriously, but said the government would give its formal response to the
consultation at a later date.

"I will reflect carefully on the findings of today's report, along with
those of the science review and our costs and benefits study, before
publishing our response. We said that we will listen, and we will," she
said.

Sue Meyer, of Genewatch, said the debate had confirmed that the country is
sceptical about GM food. "The public believe it is being driven by profit
and don't trust the government to act fairly.

"People see possible dangers for themselves and for the environment, while
industry reaps the benefits. The more people learn, the more anxious they
become."

The blow to the government comes as a Guardian investigation reveals a
crisis looming in GM science in Britain. A stream of leading GM crop
researchers have quit the country, while others are preparing to leave in
the next few months, threatening to damage Britain's world-class reputation
in the field. "The really committed people who have underpinned our
excellence are moving out and that's a real worry," said Professor Chris
Leaver, head of plant sciences at Oxford.

Scientists said weak leadership from the government and public opposition to
GM, stirred up by anti-GM pressure groups, were largely to blame.

The plant biotechnology industry has already taken a big hit in Britain.
High-profile GM research companies such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dow have all
closed down research facilities in Britain in recent years, drastically
diminishing the career prospects of scientists working on GM crops. Only one
multinational company, Syngenta, remains.

Yesterday's report uncovered deep suspicion about government motives, with
people following earlier studies which suggested there were few economic
benefits from growing the crops, and increasing concerns by its own
scientists.

The authors - a team drawn from universities, business and consumer groups -
found that "people believe that the multinational [GM] companies are
motivated overwhelmingly by profit rather than meeting society's needs . . .
People are suspicious about any information or science which emanates from
GM companies."

The prime minister had hoped that the national debate on GM crops would
soothe widespread anxieties over their safety, paving the way for their
commercialisation in the UK.

The report comes on the back of an economic analysis by the No 10 strategy
unit, which showed little benefit to Britain from growing the crops, and a
scientific analysis which urged more caution.

A decision on whether to allow the crops was to have been made within the
next month but has been put back to the new year following impasse on legal
liability and whether they can be grown next to conventional crops. A report
on their environmental effects is expected next month.

 

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