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'PR disaster' of GM crops

(Tuesday, July 1, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Farmers Weekly, 06/27/03: EMBRACING genetically modified crops could be a public lations disaster for UK farmers, the Liberal Democrat shadow rural affairs minister has warned.

Andrew George waded into the debate on GM crops by warning farmers if they are unquestioning about the benefits of the technology, then they risk getting the blame if things do go wrong.

Farmers had unfairly been blamed for BSE and a similar situation could arise again, he told FARMERS WEEKLY.

"I fear that coming down the track with GM there is an opportunity for farmers to be sucked into a PR disaster," he said.

"The best thing Britisn farm- ers could do at the moment is wait and see, certainly for years, maybe for decades. Farmers in this country would be extremely unwise to take them on at the moment."

Mr George added that accepting GM could also be dangerous to farmers on a commercial basis, because farmers would be bound by the rules of the biotechnology companies.

Short and curlies

"Supermarkets have got farmers by the short and curlies. But biotechnology companies will have them by the throat," he warned.

"These two [supermarkets and biotechnology companies] could reduce farmers to playing a bit part in the food chain." Mr George's warning comes after former DEFRA minister Michael Meacher explosively accused the government of rushing to accept GM technology.

Mr Meacher, who had respon- sibility for GMs until the latest government reshuffle, said it was extraordinary that there had been virtually no independent studies of the health effects of GM. He said the only government-spon- sored work into health impacts ever carried out was Dr Pusztai's work on rats and GM potatoes which was "widely rubbished in government circles".

The comments, which come as the national GM Nation debate continues, have delighted anti" GM campaigners such as the Soil Association. But the Food Standards Agency and Royal Society have challenged some of the points made.

Mr Meacher said that certain studies which questioned the safety of GM food had been brushed aside by the FSA.

But the agency said a study by Newcastle University was dismissed largely because it was a small study carried out on people who already had unrelated health problems.

The president of the Royal Society, Lord May of Oxford, also accused Mr Meacher of applying spin by quoting selectively from a Society report on GM foods.

"The recent newspaper articles by Mr Meacher appear to show an ideological opposition to GM crops, and present a severely distorted account of the scientific facts and uncertainties surrounding GM foods," he said.

For related item, see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,756666,00.html