28 February 2000
Blair admits GM doubts

TONY BLAIR has voiced doubts about the safety of genetically modified organisms as experts gather in Edinburgh for a major conference on GM foods.

Writing in the Independent on Sunday, the Prime Minister admitted public concerns about biotechnology were legitimate and that GM food could have the potential for harm.

“There is no doubt that there is potential for harm, both in terms of human safety and for the diversity of our environment,” wrote Mr Blair.

He added: “But there is no doubt either that the new technology could bring benefits for mankind.”

Previously Mr Blair had taken a positive position on GM technology.

He claimed last year he was happy to eat GM food and accused anti-GM campaigners of being irrational.

Conservative agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo called for further evidence from Mr Blair that he had genuinely revised his views.

Downing Street denied a policy shift, claiming Mr Blair was restating the government position.

Against this backdrop 400 experts will meet to discuss science safety and regulation of GM foods.

This is the first time in a major global conference conservationists, companies developing GMOs and policy makers will join in debate.

Cabinet Office minister Mo Mowlam will address the conference and challenge scientists to look at all the evidence, listen to each other and work towards consensus

She is expected to repeat that GMOs have a potential for harm, but it is too early to say if there are benefits or risks.

A major attraction away from the official event is expected to be a speech by US attorney Stephen Druker.

Mr Druker has many criticisms of GMOs and alleges US government scientists have serious doubts about the safety of the technology. Meanwhile, Thames Valley University food policy unit has just published a report which shows that 90% of government-funded research projects consider how to commercialise GM crops.

In comparison, only 10% look into safety issues.