9 July 2002

Blair to head GM campaign

By Andy McSmith, Chief Political Correspondent

Tony Blair is to lead a three-pronged campaign to win public opinion over to the idea that genetically modified crops should be grown commercially in Britain.

The campaign will run in parallel with the last of a three-year series of trials of GM crops. The last 18 experimental sites were announced yesterday.

Officially, the exercise is described as a public debate. However, one minister said: "Don't be in any doubt - the decision is already taken."

The results from trials with GM crops are to be published next summer. But ministers fear that public opinion is so hostile that allowing GM crops to be grown commercially will provoke political uproar, whatever the scientific findings.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is planning what a minister called a "three-pronged PR offensive" to increase public awareness of the advantages of GM foods. The campaign will include television, radio, posters, supermarket leaflets and public meetings.

One theme will be the economic benefits, backed by a report from Lord Sainsbury, the science minister, and the Government's Performance and Innovation Unit.

Another theme will be the health and environmental impact of GM crops. Research supported by government advisers will emphasise that GM crops require fewer chemicals to help them grow, that trials have produced no damage to the environment, and that there are no known risks to human health.

The third theme of the campaign will be to emphasise the benefits for the Third World.

A Defra spokesman said yesterday: "This will be a public debate, not a formal consultation exercise. There are a lot of myths out there."

Pete Riley, GM campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "The Government has agreed to hold a national debate. At the same time, they are allowing trials to take place that threaten the environment with GM contamination."