The Reporter
Issue 493, 27 October 2003
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GM crops aren't close to the public's heart – but what do the academics think?

 

Dr Andy Dougill - environment

Past failings of Government funded science, notably on BSE and foot and mouth, imply that such public scepticism on a food safety issue is inevitable and could be argued as ‘right’ in that it adopts a precautionary approach. This holds despite the fact that most people have limited knowledge of scientific and health debates, and will only have seen poor popular portrayals of the issue around misleading images such as ‘Frankenstein foods’.

The GM Nation? debate found that as people engage more with the GM debate, the more intense their concerns become. Consequently, it seems very unlikely that any Government led awareness initiative could reduce public scepticism and hostility. Given this and the limited economic need or benefits for GM crops to meet consumer needs in the UK, the Government needs to respond to the public debate it has initiated by acting to prevent the commercial growth of GM crops in the UK.

As the economic benefits to crop production in the UK appear limited to a very narrow range of crops, and the environmental consequences remain uncertain, I see no long-term commercial future for GM crops in the UK. Given the public hostility to their use, I see a scenario of no commercial GM crop growth as very likely, despite counter arguments that biotechnology companies put forward.

The key point should be that GM crops are not required to meet consumer needs (let alone wants) in the UK.

The Government should listen to the public and prevent the commercialisation of GM crop growth. To do otherwise, would be to ignore societies view and negate the value of future public attitudes surveys.

 
 


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