The GM Nation debate, held in the summer of 2003, failed in its primary objective of finding out what members of the general public actually thought of genetically modified crops, according to Rosie Hails, a committee member of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, which recommended the national debate.

Analysis of questionnaires given to members of the public who took part in the open meetings, and a smaller group selected to be representative of the general public, identified gaps between the group’s views, she told delegates at the BCPC Congress.

A further survey of 1343 people selected to be representative of the wider public also suggested members taking part in the open debate were more negative about GM cropping than the wider public, she said.

“The combination of the open meeting’s self selecting its participants and the way the results were reported means that public opinion was the major casualty of the way the debate developed, even though it was the raison d’etre of why it started.”