Government to set up new GM watchdog?

01 October 1998

Government to set up new GM watchdog?

By Jonathan Riley

THE Government is considering the creation of a new independent body to monitor the development of genetically modified (GM) crops.

The news follows advice from the Royal Society that the potential risks from GM crops have been exaggerated.

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker told delegates at the Labour Party Conference that Government had already ruled out a blanket ban on genetically modified (GM) crops.

Calls for a moratorium GM crops were equally groundless, he added.

A ban on GM crops would be impractical and is an ideal not shared by the Government, Mr Rooker said at a fringe meeting in Blackpool.

“For a moratorium to be implemented we need strong health, scientific and safety grounds – we have none of these,” Mr Rooker said.

Instead, the Government is considering setting up a new independent body to oversee the introduction of GM crops.

The Royal Society called earlier this month for an independent regulatory body to supervise and monitor the enforcement of regulations covering the growing of GM crops.

If the Royal Societys recommendation is implemented, the new body would also be responsible for wider issues such as trade and labelling.

“We are pursuing the need for a single body – similar to the one recommended in the Royal Societys report – to oversee the GM issue and the need for a long term surveillance programme,” Mr Rooker said.

If a new body is set up, it could mean the end of the Governments Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE).

Julie Sheppard of the Consumers Association said the Governments existing advisors on GM crops were out of touch with public sentiment.

Members of ACRE were drawn from selective backgrounds and met behind closed doors, she said.

“We need long-term surveillance and we need a new body to actively manage the introduction of GM foods above all with reliable labelling,” she said.

Ms Sheppards call was backed by Bob Fiddaman of the NFUs Biotechnology Working Group.

Mr Fiddaman said a single body should be financed independently and monitor GM crops after they had been released into the environment.

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