British Public Says \'No\' to GMO Crops
LONDON - A six-week national debate over genetically modified (GMO) crops and food has found that British people are still highly skeptical of the controversial technology and mistrust the government and the industry that has to power to introduce it.
This was the overwhelming conclusion from a report on this year\'s government-sponsored national dialogue, GM Nation? published Wednesday.
The debate also found that the more people were informed about GM technology, the more skeptical they became.
\"Across the different elements of the debate, participants expressed unease about GM,\" the report from the government\'s Independent GM Steering Board, which oversaw the debate under the helm of Professor Malcolm Grant, said.
\"The mood ranged from caution to doubt, through suspicion and skepticism, to hostility and rejection,\" it added.
The UK government said it promised to take the report\'s findings seriously and issue an official response in due course.
Britain\'s skeptical public said in the survey they wanted the government to delay its decision on whether to allow GM crops to be grown commercially until more questions are answered.
More than half of all participants said they never wanted to see them grown under any circumstances.
Only two percent said they were happy to eat GM food, while 86 percent were not.
\"There is little support for the early commercialization of GM crops,\" the report said.
Those who did not reject the technology outright called for more time so that crucial questions about their potential effects on human health and the environment can be answered.
\"They seek varying periods of delay so that new information, tests or research can identify and eliminate, or at least reduce to an acceptable level, the potential risks,\" the government-backed report concluded.
The national survey, which took 36,500 completed questionnaires, 600 local meetings and six regional debates into account, found there was also widespread mistrust of the government over its handling of the issue and the companies that advocate GM technology.
Many people surveyed thought the government had already made up its mind to allow GM crops to be grown and that the debate \"was only a camouflage and its results would be ignored.\"
\"Even when people acknowledge potential benefits of GM technology, they are doubtful that GM companies will actually deliver them,\" the report said.
Opponents of GM crops and food seized on the debate results and urged the government to take note.
\"The government will ignore this report at its peril - the public has made it clear that it doesn\'t want GM food and it doesn\'t want GM crops,\" Pete Riley of environmental group Friends of the Earth said.
Clare Devereux, who organizes the \"Five Year Freeze\" campaign, said the moratorium on GM crops should continue.
\"One of the key messages from the public is how little government or industry is trusted on this issue - there is now a duty to adopt a more precautionary approach to GM crops and food,\" Devereux said.
GM CROP FIRMS SKEPTICAL OF RESULTS
But the biotechnology companies pioneering gene-spliced technology said the government debate was flawed and that its results were unreliable.
\"Public meetings do not equal public opinion,\" the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), which represents biotech firms like Monsanto and Bayer CropScience, said.
\"Unfortunately this exercise doesn\'t tell us anything new,\" ABC\'s Paul Rylott said.
\"When the public is asked in a statistically valid way, they can see why GM crops are so widely grown in other countries,\" Rylott said. UK agriculture minister Margaret Beckett said in a statement: \"I will reflect carefully on the findings of today\'s report. We said that we will.\"
The government is preparing to unveil the long-awaited results of farm-scale trials of genetically modified crops on October 16.
Its findings, along with those of the Science Review Panel and the Strategy Unit\'s costs and benefits study, are expected to form the basis on which the government decides whether to give GM crops the green light, probably later this year.
No GM crops are currently grown on a commercial basis in the UK. Several applications for approval are under consideration at European Union level, but no decisions will be taken until next year.
Story by David Cullen
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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