26 October 2002

GM approval 'will be influenced by money'

By Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent

An environmental group attacked the Government yesterday after it emerged that ministers could take into account finance as well as science in deciding whether GM crops can be grown commercially.

Previously ministers have insisted that approval would be based solely on the scientific and environmental evaluation of farm trials.

Yesterday, however, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said other factors, including "costs and benefits", would also be considered.

In a response to a select committee report on genetically modified organisms, Defra said that a public debate on whether to approve planting will be steered by a panel of scientists rather than environmentalists, public health experts or consumer groups. The conclusions will be summarised by scientists for the Secretary of State for the Environment, Margaret Beckett.

Defra said: "The Government believes that public trust is vital to progress and innovation and that we must take note of people's concerns, but not exaggerate them."

The Prime Minister has ordered his strategy unit to produce a report on the economic benefits of GM crops. It is likely to argue that the benefits of commercialisation will be positive for "UK plc".

Friends of the Earth accused the Government of trying to "skew the argument" in favour of GM food. An FoE spokesman, Pete Riley, said he was worried that the decision would be based on "a biased economic analysis."