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Advisers walk out in fury over £500,000 GM food PR exercise 3rd June 2010 An official public consul…

Advisers walk out in fury over £500,000 GM food PR exercise

3rd June 2010

An official public consultation into genetically modified food has been thrown into chaos following protests that it has been rigged.

The exercise by the Food Standards Agency could now be axed following the resignation of two leading advisers working on it.

The two academics said they were not prepared to support a proposal that would spend £500,000 of public money on a spin exercise to promote so-called 'Frankenstein Food'.

Consumer opposition: The public, and especially organisations such as Friends of the Earth, have not taken to the idea of genetically modified crops, or 'Frankenstein foods' as they are commonly known

They argued the money would be better spent on schools and hospitals rather than boosting the interests of GM companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta.

Ministers in the coalition Government are believed to be ready to kill off the idea in a move against Whitehall waste.

The GM consultation plan was ordered by the old Labour government in what critics believe was a last ditch effort to overturn consumer opposition to the technology.

Ministers even appointed Lord Rooker, the former Labour minister Jeff Rooker and a self-avowed advocate of GM farming, to the post of FSA chairman to oversee the process.

Quit: Professor Brian Wynne and Dr Helen Wallace stepped down from leading roles at the Food Standards Agency, saying it is biased towards GM technology

The FSA, which has a history of supporting GM technology, made great play of claims that the consultation would be independent. However, two advisers who sit on the steering group overseeing the proposal have stepped down claiming it is biased in favour of GM.

They include the vice chairman, Professor Brian Wynne, a sociologist at Lancaster University.

He is the country's leading expert on public engagement with science and has also advised House of Lords and EU committees.

Dr Helen Wallace, who is the director of Genewatch UK and a long time critic of GM, has also stepped down.

Lord Rooker, a self-avowed advocate of GM farming, has dismissed those who oppose GM as 'anti-science'

Dr Wallace said: 'This is a worst case example of dirty politics where vested interests are paid to dupe the public using public money.

'Taxpayers will be shocked to learn that a former minister still has his fingers in their pockets long after the New Labour government is dead.

'This money should be spent on schools or hospitals, not reputation management for Monsanto and other GM companies.'

Professor Wynne added that it appeared the FSA had been ordered to conduct the GM exercise after the biotech industry lobbied the last government-In a letter of resignation-he complained that the planned consultation had turned out to be little more than propaganda.

He accused the FSA of having adopted a 'dogmatically entrenched' pro-GM position.

And he was particularly critical of Lord Rooker, accusing him of effectively hijacking the process to ensure it supported GM.

Lord Rooker has dismissed consumers who oppose GM as 'anti-science'.

However, the reality is that there has been very little independent research on the health aspects of GM crops.

The only large scale UK research on growing GM crops in this country raised serious concerns for wildlife. The associated farming practices destroy the weed population, removing food for bees, butterflies and other insects.

They also harm the food supply for birds.

Policy director at the Soil Association, Peter Melchett, called on the FSA to shut down the GM exercise.

'Most people could never understand why the last government asked the FSA to carry out what many of us believed was intended to be a pro-GM propaganda exercise,' he said.

'It was pursuing one of Tony Blair's obsessions and cost a large amount of public money.'

Pete Riley, director of GM Freeze, a coalition of environment groups opposed to GM foods, said: 'The GM public dialogue is now in chaos.

'The coalition Government needs to look very seriously at how the FSA is attempting to use the dialogue process to gather information on what the public thinks about GM so they can the use it to manipulate public opinion in a pro-GM direction.

'This would be a gross misuse of public funds, and ministers need to put a stop to it.

'The FSA is far too close to industry on this issue, which is a deep disappointment for an organisation that was set up as an independent regulator and food safety champion for the public just ten years ago.'

The FSA yesterday insisted that its proposals were designed to promote a ' well balanced' dialogue.

The proposal would not go ahead before being assessed by the Government, a spokesman said.

The episode calls into question the integrity and future of the FSA.

It was set up to provide a trusted and independent voice on food issues.

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Comment by Debby Bruck on June 4, 2010 at 2:18pm
I saw this report the other day.

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