28 March 2003
FSA SPINS SCHOOLS DEBATE ON GM
Because of the high level of suspicion about the UK's Food Standards Agency's proclaimed neutrality in the GM public debate, Robert Vint of Genetic Food Alert contacted the organisers of the the Schools Debating Competition which this year has been sponsored by the FSA to debate the following motion, 'This house would eat GM food'. The organisers, the Durham Union Society, assured Robert that the Competition wasn't about the merits of the motion but was designed to assess the debating skills of the school teams that participated. For this reason, the school children were not even given a choice as to which side of the debate they were on.
Yesterday the FSA was busy getting the word out to the media and the public that, to quote its headline, "SCHOOLS DEBATING COMPETITION VOTES TO EAT GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD" but, as Robert notes, this couldn't be more misleading, "Durham Union Society made it clear to us that this was not a vote on supporting or opposing GM food but was a vote on the relative quality of the debating skills of the teams in the competition. **Teams were not there to express their own views and were only told on the day whether they would argue 'for' or 'against'** - so the FSA should not be using this to claim anything." [emphasis added]
Here's the FSA's spin - the headline and lead sentence says everything about how the FSA has planned its contribution to the public debate:
The following has recently been published by the Food Standards Agency
SCHOOLS DEBATING COMPETITION VOTES TO EAT GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD A majority of young people at the Durham Union Society Schools Debating Competition voted in favour of eating GM food after two hours of heated debate on Sunday 23 March 2003...
Schools debating competition votes to eat Genetically Modified food
Thursday, 27 March 2003
Ref: R652 - 33
A majority of young people at the Durham Union Society Schools Debating Competition voted in favour of eating GM food after two hours of heated debate on Sunday 23 March 2003. The competition, hosted by Durham University for the past 14 years, is organised by student officers of the Durham Union Society, and was sponsored this year by the Food Standards Agency.
After an extremely well-informed and passionately argued debate by competition finalists and speakers from the floor, the motion 'This house would eat GM food' was passed by a majority of the students attending the competition.
The overall winners of the competition, selected by a panel of independent judges for their skills in debating the issues relating to GM food, were George Molyneaux and Anna Crosby of Robert Gordon's School in Aberdeen, who argued against the motion.
The competition, attended by almost 200 students from a mixture of state and private schools across the UK, and teams from St. Johns Ravenscroft School in Canada, was sponsored by the Food Standards Agency as part of its activities to independently assess the views of young people on the acceptability of GM food and how this relates to consumer choice.
The Agency also provided a bursary enabling students from seven schools, some from disadvantaged areas, who would otherwise not have been able to attend, to take part in the competition for the first time. Two of the bursary teams - from Wheatley Park School in Oxfordshire - ended the competition in ninth and tenth place.
The entire debate is available to view online as video-on-demand below.
As sponsor, the FSA set the motion for the final of the competition - one of only two motions that teams could research and prepare in advance.
The motion: 'This house would eat GM food' was debated by the four teams reaching the final of the competition, and then opened to a floor debate and vote.
Chris Barnes and Adam Bott of Dulwich College in South London and Gabriel Brady and Alex Just of George Heriot's School in Edinburgh argued for the motion. George Molyneaux and Anna Crosby of Robert Gordon's School in Aberdeen and Gavin Illsey and James Moir of Dundee High School argued against the motion.
Food Standards Agency Board members Richard Ayre and Robert Rees attended the debate in order to listen to arguments about GM food in the formal debate and the views of young people expressed in the wider floor debate.
They will report back to the rest of the FSA Board at an Open Board Meeting later this year. This report will form part of discussions by the Board about consumer acceptability of GM foods among young people.Notes to Editors: