12 March 2003

Ministers reject report into GM food trials

By Tom Peterkin, Scottish Political Correspondent

Scottish ministers were last night accused of "unbelievable smugness and arrogance" when they rejected a Holyrood report which claimed that tests on genetically modified crops could have put the public at risk.

Ross Finnie, the Environment Minister, took the unprecedented step of dismissing an investigation into GM crops by the Scottish Parliament's health committee.

Mr Finnie criticised MSPs on the committee for ignoring scientific advice in the report, which expressed concern over the health effects of GM trials on oil seed rape in Munlochy on the Black Isle, Newport-on-Tay, Fife, and Invergowrie, near Dundee.

The Scottish Executive's response to the report into the three-year trials was the first time the work of a parliamentary committee has been categorically rejected by ministers. The Executive said the report was "fundamentally flawed" and there was no "substantive evidence" to question the trials' safety.

MSPs were criticised for relying on evidence produced by those with little knowledge of GM technology and ignoring research suggesting that GM crops pose no greater risk than non-GM varieties.

"The views of the committee members are clearly at odds with the evidence of the
Royal Society of Edinburgh
and the Executive's independent scientific advisers.

It would be irresponsible of ministers and the Executive to ignore the knowledge and expertise of expert advisory bodies," said Mr Finnie.

But members of the health committee, who published the report after an anti-GM crop petition was lodged at parliament by environmental campaigners, were angered by his comments.

In their report, MSPs voiced concern over monitoring procedures and urged the Executive to examine the effects on human health near trial areas. The committee
suggested that tests carried out on the trials were more concerned with proving the safety of GM crops than assessing hazards.

Mary Scanlon, the Scottish Tory health spokesman and committee member, said the
Executive's position threatened Holyrood's committee system.

"This is a staggering situation," she said. "The minister is acting with unbelievable smugness and arrogance. He has also called into question the committee system in the Scottish Parliament, which was always hailed as one of its great strengths."