Threat of civil unrest over GM/Papers say “GM? No thanks”/No limit to public hostility to GM
"In trying to find where hostility to the genetic modification of crops ends, the government has discovered an uncomfortable fact: there is no boundary to the public's antipathy. Instead, the results of the admirable national public debate show that not only are people deeply uneasy about GM technology, but that the more they find out about it, the more their opinions harden and the more intense become their concerns. The news will dismay GM's supporters, including many in government, who always thought that opinion could be turned around if the public was given enough decent information."
1.GM? No thanks, say papers
2.They reap what they sow
3.Threat of civil unrest over GM
1.GM? No thanks, say papers
BBC News, 25 September 2003
The outcome of the public consultation on genetically modified crops is one of the more prominent stories in Thursday's papers.
The issue provides the lead for the Independent and the Telegraph.
Under the headline, "GM crops? No thanks", the Independent points out that the title of the debate was GM Nation. But that, it says, is precisely what the British people do not want.
The Telegraph believes the results will make awkward reading for Tony Blair and Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett.
It says they are caught between supporting the public, who overwhelmingly reject GM foods, and appeasing America - which wants to export GM crops, food and technology to Europe.
2.They reap what they sow
Leader, The Guardian, Thursday September 25, 2003
In trying to find where hostility to the genetic modification of crops ends, the government has discovered an uncomfortable fact: there is no boundary to the public's antipathy. Instead, the results of the admirable national public debate show that not only are people deeply uneasy about GM technology, but that the more they find out about it, the more their opinions harden and the more intense become their concerns. The news will dismay GM's supporters, including many in government, who always thought that opinion could be turned around if the public was given enough decent information.
This view is quietly disappearing from the political radar. In fact, rather than supporting the case for GM crop cultivation, the government's own advisers have been steadily weakening it. Its science review of biotechnology in July expressed hitherto unspoken doubts about the environmental impact of transgenic crops and admitted substantial gaps in scientific knowledge remained.
Weeks earlier the Downing Street strategy unit concluded that the current range of GM crops had little commercial potential in the UK. These reports and yesterday's findings bring to the surface the reality that retailing new breakthroughs in science, especially ones which impact on the sensitive area of food safety, requires ministers to tread carefully and cautiously.
Whether this message has sunk deep enough into Whitehall will be revealed by the handling of the results, due in weeks, of the field-scale trials of GM crops. Given that yesterday's report shows little support for early commercialisation, ministers face no easy task.
This issue is not about the triumph of opinion over knowledge. What is striking about the GM debate is the suspicion infecting the public mood. The report identifies "a weakening of faith in the ability or even the will of any govern ment to defend the interest of the general public". Coupled with the widely held belief that multinationals have too much power and with recent food scares such as BSE, ministers need to start speaking to people's concerns if they want to assuage them. There should be a recognition that science does not provide all the answers - although it enables the right questions to be asked. It is clear that government may not have the knowledge and advice to make good decisions, especially when dealing with new technologies. This means ministers themselves have to come clean over what science can and cannot explain. It is not good enough to say there is no evidence for risks, because the public believes they are not looking hard enough.
While these might be viewed as local difficulties, looming in the distance are more geopolitical concerns that call into question the power and role of national governments when determining the extent of the commercial sphere. European consumers are sceptical about GM technology, opting for a "safety first" approach in dealing with it.
The result has been a five-year moratorium on growing crops in Europe, a stance that reflects continental anxieties. But pressure from the United States and lobbying by multinational companies means this will be lifted. Such a development, if not contained and limited, will confirm fears that ministers buckle before corporate interests.
GM crops represent one of the biggest decisions this government faces. They signal an irreversible shift in farming and could determine what happens to food production patterns. There is little public appetite for GM food. If it wants to develop one, the government needs to recover the trust of the electorate. Unless ministers can regain consumers' faith in the ability of governments to safeguard the food supply and the environment, GM crops will remain just food for thought.
3.Threat of civil unrest over GM
String of protests is planned by activists
Western Morning News, 25 september 2003
The Government faces a campaign of civil unrest if it ignores the public's official condemnation over the commercialisation of genetically modified crops, Westcountry protesters warned last night.
Road blocks, the pulling up of GM crops and mass demonstrations are all being threatened if ministers refuse to take heed of the nation's overwhelming "no" vote in the Government's official consultation exercise on the technology.
Yesterday, it emerged that the public is overwhelmingly opposed to genetically modified crops, according the findings of the Government's official nationwide public consultation exercise.
The findings of the "GM Nation?" debate said most people were "cautious, suspicious or outrightly hostile" about GM crops. Some 54 per cent of the 40,000 people who took part said they were against the commercialisation of GM crops with a further 25 per cent undecided. Only two per cent of those interviewed said they would be happy to eat GM foods with 86 per cent saying they definitely would not eat them.
The report also said there was a widespread view that the Government had already taken a decision about GMs, so that the debate was only a camouflage and its results would be ignored. Professor Malcolm Grant, chairman of the independent GM Debate Steering Board, which organised the debate, said it did not attempt to judge the public's views but he urged the Government to listen.
However, Environment Minister Margaret Beckett was last night giving nothing away to campaigners, saying in a statement that she would "reflect carefully on the findings of today's report, along with those of the science review and our costs and benefits study, before publishing our response. We said that we will listen, and we will."
More people from the Westcountry than from any other region in Britain took part in the public debate which was held at 600 centres across the country this summer.
"The Government will ignore this report at its peril," warned Keith Hatch, Westcountry spokesman for Friends of the Earth. "The public has made it clear that it doesn't want GM food and it doesn't want GM crops."
Olaf Bayer from North Devon, speaking for environmental group The Green Gloves, said: "We are here to tell the Government that for every GM plant that it allows to be planted, there will be many pairs of hands willing to pull them up again."
The "GM Nation?" debate was commissioned by the Government to gauge public opinion ahead of major decisions over the future of GM crops which ministers are expected to take within the next few months.
Some of the findings of the report suggest that the further people go into GM issues the harder their attitudes become and the more intense their concerns. The document also highlights a widespread public mistrust of Government and of the multinational companies involved in the technology.
Totnes-based anti-GM campaigner Robert Vint welcomed the results, claiming they confirmed the public's concerns over the technology.
"This is a categorical confirmation of what we already knew - that the vast majority of the population are opposed to genetically modified crops and food. It reinforces the conclusion of other Government reports that there are no short-term economic benefits from GM crops and the environmental impact is still unknown.
"The Westcountry also welcomes the results, being an area of high levels of organic farming valued for its environment. It's an area with lots of small and high quality food producers."
But Archie Montgomery, chairman of the region's National Farmers' Union biotech working group, said he was sceptical about the results which he argued did not reflect the views of the "Clapham omnibus man".
"This debate involved mostly people who already had their minds made up against the technology and who, I would say, were blinkered in their views. It certainly didn't reflect the opinions of the ordinary consumer.
"From a pragmatic point of view, knowing that people choose to buy on price, I would say that Britain cannot go against the trend and refuse to commercialise GM crops.
"However, I'd stress that farmers will not grow GM if the public doesn't want it."
In June this year more than 200 farmers, consumers, councillors and environmentalists travelled to Taunton to express their views on the introduction of the technology in Britain.
Last year the Government launched the three-strand debate in a bid to gauge the scientific and economic impact of the technology as well as the public's opinions on the commercialisation of GM crops in Britain.
Key findings of the scientific and economic assessments stressed concerns over the technology's impact on the environment and human health. However, they suggest that potential benefits from GM should not be neglected.
THE Government faces a campaign of civil unrest if it ignores the public's official condemnation of the commercialisation of genetically modified crops, Westcountry protesters warned last night.
Road blocks, pulling up of GM crops and mass demonstrations are all threatened if ministers refuse to heed the nation's overwhelming "no" vote in the Government's official consultation exercise on the technology.
ONLY 7% BACK CROPS IN WEST - POLL
A Mori survey carried out at the beginning of the year showed that only seven per cent of the Westcountry population was in favour of the commercialisation of GM crops.
Last night, Totnes-based campaigner Robert Vint claimed there was little chance for the results to have changed over the last months. He said: "Unfortunately, the report on the nationwide GM consultation which came out this week does not have a breakdown for regions, which could show how residents in the Westcountry voted on the matter.
"However, there is little chance that people may have changed their attitude and the results of the MORI survey last April may still be valid."
Last night, members of the biotech industry claimed the results were "orchestrated" by campaign groups and did not reflect the view of the entire nation on the commercialisation of the technology.
Paul Rylott, chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, said: "Unfortunately, this exercise doesn't tell us anything new. Websites run by groups opposed to GM crops had urged members to attend meetings in force, for example. And the report identifies middle-aged mothers as displaying the most 'implacable' opposition. It is time for Government to work with EU colleagues to ensure the lifting of the politically-imposed de facto moratorium on GM crops."