21 May 1999
Government announces new GM watchdog
By FWi staff
THE government is to set up an Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Commission to oversee the use of biotechnology in farming.
The launch of the new commission was announced this morning by cabinet office minister Jack Cunningham during a major speech to MPs in the House of Commons.
It follows the governments five-month review of the regulatory framework for overseeing developments in biotechnology.
The review found that there was confidence in the existing system of case-by-case assessment of new GM products and processes.
But it recommended that the system should be strengthened by two new strategic commissions which will take a broader, long-term view of GM developments.
Members of the new agricultural commission will be drawn from a broad range of interests and will include consumer representatives as well as scientists.
They will work alongside the yet-to-be-launched Food Standards Agency which will take on responsibility for GM food.
The new commission will have a duty to consult widely with the public in addition to those who have an interest in the development of GM technology.
Dr Cunningham said that the current system for testing the safety of GM products was both rigorous and effective.
But in a move which shows the government is aware that consumers and environmental groups are far from convinced over GM crops, he added:
“The system needs to take a broader view of the technology, to be more transparent and to take account of a wider range of viewpoints.”
Environment minister Michael Meacher said the new commission would ensure that a wide range of stakeholders had a say in GM developments.
“This is essential given the very fast moving nature of this technology,” he said.
A cabinet office statement said the new commission will be in place “as soon as practically possible”.
A 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.