Row erupts over GM 'agenda setting' claims
THE Government has reacted angrily to claims it is brokering ‘secret deals’ with biotechnology companies to push genetically modified (GM) foods.
Anti-GM lobby groups Genewatch UK and GM Freeze have published information which they believe shows GM companies such as Monsanto, Bayer and BASF are ‘setting the agenda’ for agricultural research in the UK.
They also claim the UK Government has done a ‘secret deal to promote GM in Britain and abroad’ and is supporting a move to ‘push Monsanto propaganda in schools’.
Defra said the claims were ‘completely inaccurate and any accusation to the contrary is totally unfounded’.
Monsanto and BASF also denied the claims and suggested their focus remained outside of Europe when it comes to GM. In February, BASF announced it was moving its plant biotechnology activities from Germany to the US, blaming a ‘lack of acceptance’ for GM in Europe. Monsanto has no GM research now in the UK and its last trial was in 2003.
The claims come on the back of a document, obtained through Freedom of Information, which is linked to a meeting back in June between various biotechnology companies, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), Science Minister David Willetts and the then Defra Minister Lord Taylor.
Although the meeting was widely publicised, Genewatch UK obtained a summary of notes highlighting the need for, among other things, ‘increased investment in biotech’ and the ‘start of a public debate about the role of biotech’.
However, Defra said the summary did not reflect either the discussion on the day or the Government’s position.
ABC chairman Dr Julian Little said: “It was primarily designed as a way of formulating ideas, rather than agreeing specific actions. Ongoing attempts by anti-science campaign groups to stifle open debate on the potential of agricultural science do nothing to address the very real challenges facing global food security and development.”
A spokesman for Defra said: “GM crops could one day play a role in tackling global challenges such as food security, climate change, and sustainability of agriculture. But our top priority is safeguarding human health and the environment so any decisions on GM would have to be based on rigorous scientific evidence.”
Genewatch UK director Dr Helen Wallace said Ministers ‘should not prop up this failing industry by pushing Monsanto’s propaganda’.