GM THE GREAT BETRAYAL; Health, Public Opinion, the Countryside ... Nothing Matters except to Show That Mr Blair, America's Poodle, Is Always Right

Article excerpt

Byline: GEOFFREY LEAN

LET US get one thing straight, before the spinning torrent of misinformation being prepared by ministers is unleashed on the longsuffering British public.

Despite what we will be told, the Government's decision to allow the planting of GM maize is far from the rational, science-based assessment of the risks and benefits that we have the right to demand from our rulers.

No. The leaked Cabinet minutes show this to be an entirely political act, taken in defiance of the scientific evidence and public concern, by a Government desperate to curry favour with big business, appease President George Bush and, above all, to save the face of a Prime Minister.

It is also bound to backfire, further damaging what little is left of public trust in the Government and casting the long-term future of GM agriculture into jeopardy. For both Tony Blair and the biotechnology industry, the victory will be Pyrrhic indeed.

Once again, the Prime Minister's credibility is bang in the centre of the controversy. Back in October he promised the House of Commons he would 'proceed only according to the science' in making a decision on GM. 'To be frank about it, the Government has got no interest in this one way or another, other than to do the right thing,' he said.

Cynical

Frankly, to use Mr Blair's expression, this was hard to credit even at the time, given his long, evangelical espousal of GM and his desire not to cross President Bush.

The U.S. administration has close connections with Monsanto and other biotech companies and Bush has not hidden his fury at Europe's refusal to import American GM food. He expects Mr Blair's unthinking support.

It is clear that he has got it and I am afraid to say that it is now downright impossible to believe that Mr Blair has done 'the right thing'.

For in three and a half decades of rummaging around the darker corners of the environmental policies of some pretty disreputable governments, I have rarely come across so breathtakingly cynical a document.

Despite the presence of 13 ministers at the crucial meeting of the Cabinet Office ministerial subcommittee on biotechnology on February 11, when the GM crops go-ahead was discussed, it records no consideration whatsoever of the pros and cons.

Instead, the meeting was devoted to debating how best to spin the decision.

Ministers discussed how public opposition could be 'worn down', how 'key MPs' could be persuaded to 'prepare the ground' before the decision is announced, and how important 'careful presentation' would be.

In their desperation to find a sellable 'line' on GM, they plumped for trying to persuade the public of the dubious proposition that growing GM crops in Britain would help feed hungry people in the Third World.

(This is despite the fact that surplus food already produced by Western countries is routinely dumped in the Third World.) Margot Wallstrom, the EU environment commissioner, scornfully demolished that fallacy last autumn, saying that U.S. biotech companies had introduced them 'to solve starvation among shareholders, not the developing world'.

In practice, introducing the crops will almost certainly worsen the plight of the poor, enabling wealthy farmers to undercut smaller producers.

True, ministers went on to discuss measures to limit GM contamination of neighbouring crops and to compensate those affected, but even this was presented as putting such concerns 'into perspective'. …