19 May 2002

GM crop protesters to be silenced

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

Secret plans are being prepared to stop Britons challenging the safety of GM crops at public
hearings, a confidential document seen by The Independent on Sunday reveals.

The internal memorandum circulating in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural
, proposes an "urgent" change in the law by November to crack down on objections to the crops, before they are grown in Britain.

The disclosure comes as public hearings open in London tomorrow over corn developed by Aventis, the first GM variety grown commercially here. Environmentalists, including Friends of the Earth, are challenging this.

The document urges the Government to "proceed rapidly" to amend the law, straight after
hearings into GM corn end this month. It admits the plans ''will be criticised because it will
seem we are trying to silence GM objections''.

The Government's move follows proposals to stop the public challenging the need for nuclear waste dumps, and other controversial developments, at public inquiries.

Last night, Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth said: "The Government pretends to be neutral ... but this memo unveils the real agenda, to force GM food on to a reluctant public, while removing the only legal opportunity to object."

Meanwhile, Tony Blair will warn scientists this week that they have to do more to persuade the public of the benefits of scientific advances. The Prime Minister has previously warned that Britain was in danger of developing an "anti-science" culture.