'Blair is wrong on GM food'

Exclusive poll shows extent of public unease
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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR has mishandled the debate over genetically modified food and has failed to persuade people that it is safe, according to an opinion poll conducted for the Independent on Sunday.

Sixty per cent are unhappy with the way the Government has dealt with genetically modified food, while the poll also shows that 68 per cent are worried about eating it. More than three-quarters believe there should be a temporary ban on producing GM products until more research is done.

The poll, carried out by NOP, follows growing concern about the health risks of GM foods and the publication of evidence that growing such crops in Britain may harm the environment.

Ninety-six per cent of those questioned want "all products containing modified food" to be clearly labelled. The findings support the Independent on Sunday's campaign for a clear label identifying GM ingredients.

John Redwood, Conservative Trade and Industry Spokesman, said that the Government's handling of the GM issue has been "secretive, clumsy and economical with the truth".

The poll findings come the day after the Prime Minister sought to reassure the public about the effects of GM food. Yesterday, he said that genetic modification will be the revolutionary science of the 21st century and that "there is no scientific evidence on which to justify a ban on GM foods and crops".

Tomorrow, the Cabinet office will meet to discuss its handling of the GM debate and whether last week's pledge, to delay the planting of GM crops until the Government is sure they will not damage the environment and wildlife, will calm public fears.

But the controversy will continue this week when the Church of England, which has more than pounds 55m in companies spearheading genetic modification, issues a policy document advising clergy to adopt a "cautious" stance on genetically modified crops if asked by the public.

Last week, the Church's influential Board of Social Responsibility adopted a "precautionary principle" towards GM food. It favours thorough testing and believes public concerns should be listened to before any commercial growing in Britain.

The Church's investments, in Zeneca and Novartis, two of the world's leading biotechnology companies, have been condemned as "embarrassing" and "unethical" by Christian groups campaigning for a freeze on growing GM crops in Britain.

The Central Board of Finance of the Church of England, which invests the funds of dioceses and parishes, owns 614,000 shares in Zeneca, which is behind the genetically modified tomato, worth pounds 16m. The Church also owns 2,000 shares in gene giant Novartis, worth pounds 1.9m.

The Church Commissioners, responsible for the Church of England estate including properties and agricultural land, own 1,375,000 shares in Zeneca, worth pounds 36m. They also hold 3,750 shares in Novartis worth around pounds 3.7m. Both Church organisations have recently sold thousands of shares in Monsanto.