28 May 1999

Regulatory body biotechnology in

to cover farming

By Jonathan Riley

A NEW regulatory body is being set up by the government in a bid to improve the system, which oversees biotechnology in farming.

The decision to create the Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Commission follows the governments five-month review of the regulatory framework.

Announcing findings of the review, Cabinet Office minister, Jack Cunningham, said the commission would be set up as soon as practically possible. But he insisted that the existing system for testing GM products was rigorous, effective and safe.

However, recognising the widespread public concern over the robustness of the testing programme for GM crops, he conceded: "The system needs to take a broader view of the technology. It must be more transparent and take account of a wider range of viewpoints."

Members of the commission will represent a broad range of interests and will include consumer representatives as well as scientists. The new body will have a duty to consult widely with the public in addition to those who have an interest in the development of GM technology. And it will work alongside the Food Standards Agency once it is launched.

Environment minister Michael Meacher said the commission would ensure a wide range of stakeholders had a say in GM developments. "This is essential given the very fast moving nature of this technology."

A second body – the Human Genetics Commission – will also be set up to advise on applications of biotechnology in healthcare and the impact of human genetics on peoples lives.

But the move has failed to pacify environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth, which called the measures "miserably inadequate". The establishment of the two commissions was insufficient to deal with key problems with GM technology and would fail to allay public concern, it insisted.

FoE executive director Charles Secrett added: "The government is trying to spin its way out of the GM crop crisis. It has only succeeded in whizzing round and round in ever decreasing circles. This miserably inadequate announcement fails to deal with any of the key issues that worry the public and the experts alike." &#42