GM Crops: Now Have Your Say; the Government Yesterday Began a Series of Debates across the UK, Beginning in Swansea. Here, Professor Malcolm Grant, Chairman of the Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) and the Independent Steering Board Running the Debate over the Next Six Weeks, Argues That It Is Important for People to Take Part

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Byline: Professor Malcolm Grant

``GM crops and GM food can feed the hungry world.'' ``Genetic modification of crops and food could spell disaster for our children and our children's children.''

Our views of the great revolution in biotechnology which has produced GM tend to be deeply polarised. Many people are prepared to accept, or at least consider, the value of life-saving medicines and drugs produced with the help of the new techniques of genetic modification.

But they are divided over the production of genetically modified food, of GM crops and GM animals. The only common ground is a demand for more information, more facts, more explanation.

Which is what GM Nation - the national GM debate on Tuesday - is all about. We are running a national discussion exercise like no other in this country before. GM Nation is a unique experiment to find out what ordinary people really think once they've heard all the arguments, and to pass their considered views on to the Government, which has to make the key decisions.

The idea for a debate like this came from the independent Biotechnology Commission, of which I am chairman.

In its very first report Crops on Trial nearly two years ago, the Commission set out the need for an in-depth debate on GM issues - but a debate where people at all levels of society had a real chance to get at the facts behind the demonstrations at supermarkets and the talk of ``Frankenstein Foods'', decide what they really thought and register their opinions through a process outside the Government machine.

The Government thought it over, decided we were right, provided some money and - most important - agreed to wait to hear what people had to say before making the crucial decisions over GM crops and GM food in this coun t ry. …