Brussels, 03 Nov 2003
A letter attacking the UK government's handling of the debate over genetically modified (GM) crops has been sent to Prime Minister Tony Blair on behalf of 114 individual scientists.
The researchers accuse the government of failing to address what they describe as 'unsubstantiated assertions about the process of genetic modification and possible risks'.
They also warn that while some scientists are choosing to leave the UK because of hostility to their research, many more are simply demoralised. 'Those who have contributed many hours to public communication and government sponsored deliberations feel undermined by the government's failure to contradict false claims about 'Frankenfoods', health risks and 'superweeds', the letter reads.
The letter makes clear that a major cause of dissatisfaction among the scientists has been the recent national debate on GM foods and the government sponsored field scale GM evaluations (FSEs). Their argument is that the process was structured in a way that made it impossible to clarify the nature of the scientific work or its opportunities.
'[T]he FSEs did not assess the effects of genetically modifying the crops, but rather the impact of different types of weed control. They had little to do with genetic modification, its processes or potential,' the letter states. '[The debate over] genetic engineering of plants has been reduced to a matter of consumer preference.'
Failure to address apparent flaws in the government's methods of scientific assessment would not only inhibit the UK's ability to contribute scientific knowledge on GMs internationally, but also raises the risk of missing out on future technologies due to 'prejudice and procrastination', concluded the scientists.
For his part, Mr Blair has already assured the UK parliament that the government is only interested in 'doing the right thing' in the case of GM crops. Any decision to commercialise GM technology would be made purely on the basis of scientific evidence, said Mr Blair, although he accepted that banning GM crops would be costly for UK industry.
The letter was written and coordinated by Professor Derek Burke, the former chairman of the UK government's GM advisory committee. On 31 October, government officials said they had received the letter and would respond in due course.
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