The Tory press release below is clearly prompted by June 7 BUT credit where credit is due, some careful thought appears to have gone into parts of this - see, for example, the excerpt immediately below - and if political debate in this country can be moved more to this level and away from ill-informed and insulting dismissals of public concern, then that is clearly for the good.
"A positive approach to new technology: Those who advocate caution on GM technology are often accused of Luddism. However the real Luddites are those who speak as if genetic modification is the only technology capable of delivering benefits to farmers and growers. This is far from the truth. For instance, research into organic farming methods has resulted in significant productivity improvements and the new science of ‘genomics’ means that exciting breakthroughs in gene sequencing can be applied to conventional plant breeding techniques. Conservatives will redirect public spending away from GM crop trials and into the research and development of high quality produce for which British consumers want to pay a fair price."
Yeo: Save Britain from Blair’s GM threat
Campaign 2001 News from Conservative Central Office
Following a visit to an organic farm in Devon, Tim Yeo, Shadow Agriculture Minister, reiterated ten Conservative commitments on GM crops and delivered this warning about GM policy under Labour:
‘If Labour wins the next election, Tony Blair will press ahead with introducing GM crops into Britain.
‘He has shown scant regard for the environmental consequences and there is a risk the results of the GM crop trials will be ignored unless they tell him what he wants to hear.
‘Spin will triumph over science and the commercial planting of GM crops will get the go ahead regardless. The concerns of conventional and organic farmers will be ignored.
‘We cannot expect the Lib Dems to rein back Labour. They will just abandon their principles as they have done in coalition with Labour in Scotland.
‘Only the Conservatives stand for common sense on GM crops. We have made ten commitments and top of the list is a promise that GM crops will not be commercialised unless the science shows that they are safe for people and the environment.
‘Any one who believes that GM issues are important should vote Conservative on 7 June.’
Notes to Editors
Genetic modification is a powerful new technology. However, at this stage in its development too little is known about the potential effects to proceed without caution. The next Conservative government will not repeat Labour's failure to act as a firm and impartial regulator. We recognise the particular public concern over the environmental impact of genetically modified (GM) crops. That is why we are making these ten commitments to common sense on GM crops:
* A moratorium on the commercialisation of GM crops: We will not allow the commercial planting of GM crops until scientific tests demonstrate that they do not cause unacceptable harm to human health or the natural environment.
* No ifs, no buts - we mean what we say on a moratorium: Unlike Labour, our moratorium will not depend on a voluntary agreement with the GM companies. Unlike the Liberal Democrats, our moratorium will not depend on the say-so of Brussels. Furthermore, our moratorium will have no artificial expiry dates, but will last for as long as it takes for science to settle the matter one way or the other.
* Independent evaluation of crop trial results: It is vital that the watershed decisions that government will have to make on the future of GM crops are made on the basis of science, not spin. That is why a Conservative Government would institute a Royal Commission, or similar arrangement, to provide a genuinely independent and scientific evaluation of not only the results of crop trials, but also their validity as a basis for policy decision-making.
* Protection for organic farms: Pollen or other genetic material from GM crop trials must not be allowed to contaminate organic farmland. We will significantly increase the separation distances around trial sites. We will end the scandal by which trial sites can be licensed without neighbouring organic farms being consulted or even informed. This is what happened to Ryton Organic Gardens, the biggest organic research centre in Europe. Happily, this situation has now been resolved, but there are however far too many organic farms throughout the country that are not so fortunate. A Conservative Government would scrap all GM crop trials that could damage organic farmland.
* Local decision-making on trial sites: While national government should take responsibility for the conduct of the crop trial programme, local government should have a greater say over the location of trial sites ? which is by its very nature a local issue. In particular, a Conservative Government would give the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland full control over the licensing of crop trials on Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish soil. For instance, a Conservative Government would respect the wishes of the Welsh Assembly, Welsh farmers and the Welsh people for a GM-free Wales.
* Liability laws on GM contamination: Alongside the environmental and public health concerns are worries about farmers’ livelihoods. Conservatives will protect the interests of conventional and organic farmers whose businesses depend on the GM-free status of their land. We will introduce legislation to establish liability for damage which may arise from the cultivation of GM crops. Furthermore we will press other countries to fulfil their obligations under the Biosafety Protocol to establish a liability regime in law.
* Transparency and openness: We will end the climate of secrecy that currently surrounds GM crops and their trials. Transparency is central to the process of building confidence in GM crops; without it the debate will be dominated by fear rather than informed choice. Effective regulation requires accurate records of the deliberate and accidental release of GM organisms. These records will be integrated into a detailed map-based register of all land where GM crops have been planted or are due to be planted. This resource will not only keep organic and other GM-free farmers properly and precisely informed of developments, it will also allow prospective land purchasers to check on land use histories.
* End Government funding of GM crop trials: Conservatives believe that Government should charge the GM companies for all public costs involved in conducting GM crop trials. We believe that the Labour Government is subsidising the crop trial programme to the tune of £3 million to £5 million every year. They say that this is for the ‘ecological studies associated with’ the crop trials. However, in other sectors it is standard practice for private companies to pay for environmental impact studies required by the authorities. A special deal for GM crop trials is not acceptable, neither on the funding nor the rigour of the tests required.
* We won’t rely on crop trials alone: It would be a mistake to base GM policy solely on the outcome of crop trials. There are many other important avenues of research that would not impact on the interests of Britain’s organic farmers. Laboratory research is one example, but at the other end of the scale there is the example of countries where GM crops have been commercially grown for several years. These are ‘open air laboratories’ that should provide valuable information on the environmental and agricultural impact of GM crops. A Conservative Government would sent investigators to countries like Canada to find out what is going on.
* A positive approach to new technology: Those who advocate caution on GM technology are often accused of Luddism. However the real Luddites are those who speak as if genetic modification is the only technology capable of delivering benefits to farmers and growers. This is far from the truth. For instance, research into organic farming methods has resulted in significant productivity improvements and the new science of ‘genomics’ means that exciting breakthroughs in gene sequencing can be applied to conventional plant breeding techniques. Conservatives will redirect public spending away from GM crop trials and into the research and development of high quality produce for which British consumers want to pay a fair price.