10 July 1998

Public perception of GMnot so much anti as confused

PUBLIC confusion over genetic modification surfaced at the show when most visitors to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council stand said they supported some GM techniques but would not buy GM food products.

A spokesman for the organic farming promotion body, the Soil Association, said that showed that public opinion was confused but turning against GM foods and that the associations campaign to have the UK declared a GM-free zone was a winnable battle.

Soil Association director Patrick Holden said that aside from the dangers involved in GM food production, GM techniques were unnecessary. "The argument that we need to feed the world with these crops doesnt stack up. We are already capable of producing more grain than we need. It is politics and not yields that stop us from distributing grain to developing countries."

But BBSRC cell biologist Paul Lazzeri claimed that attempts to establish northern Europe as an anti-GM outpost were pointless because the battle to keep GMs out of Britain had already been lost.

"Millions of hectares of GM wheat are already grown in China and the best way to ensure public safety is not to try and wash our hands of the issue, but to try and ensure that the UKs stringent GM control procedures are adopted globally," said Dr Lazzeri.

He added that while there was justifiable concern over some of the older techniques used in genetic modification, such as using marker genes which could transfer antibiotic resistance and using viruses to introduce genes, the safety of newer techniques was improving.

"We must continue with research to establish the true facts and likely effects on the environment. Turning our backs on GMs and destroying trials will not stop the uncontrolled march of technology in other parts of the world," he said.

&#8226 See page 77 for more details.

Security guards kept a watchful eye on genetically modified wheat at the show. Organisers IACRRothamsted feared protesters would try to destroy the plots on the BBSRCstand.