Euro poll `must be vote on GM food' is key issue for Greens

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VOTERS SHOULD make next month's elections to the European Parliament a referendum on the Government's policy on genetically modified food, the Green party said yesterday.

"People should use their votes on 10 June to vote Green and send a very clear message to Tony Blair that we neither need nor want GM foods," said Caroline Lucas, the leading Green candidate, launching the party's election manifesto.

The Greens are the only party formally pledged to work for a complete ban on the import and production of GM food. "We are finding on the streets that this is a key issue, and people are deeply concerned that the Government is not taking their worries seriously," said Ms Lucas, an Oxfam policy adviser who, thanks to proportional representation, stands the best chance of becoming Britain's first Green MEP.

"There's a huge unease out there, a strong feeling that we can't trust the Government and its advisers," she said. "And let's remember that these were the very same advisers and civil servants who were assuring us just a few years ago that BSE in cattle was not a risk to humans. So we are inviting the British people, and particularly those people who aren't even sure if they're going to vote, to use the European elections as a referendum on the Government's GM food policy."

In next month's poll the Greens are hoping to repeat their Euro-election triumph of 10 years ago when they secured 15 per cent of the vote and put the environment firmly on the political agenda. But they fell foul of the first-past-the-post electoral system and secured not a single seat.

However, the subsequent introduction of PR means that a similar result next month would produce several Green MEPs. The "closed list" system means that Ms Lucas will be elected in her South-east region if she secures 8.3 per cent of the vote, while Jean Lambert will be elected in the London region if she can get more than 9.1 per cent. In both regions, the Greens have been doing better than this in local elections.

The party is offering a range of alternative policies, which may appeal to voters of a radical bent who have become disillusioned with Labour. In particular it is firmly against the war in Kosovo. "We say, `Stop the bombing and negotiate'," said Ms Lambert. "And many people we talk to say, `Thank God for that, because I can't support Labour on this; thank God we've got somewhere else to go'. There are many voters who like us cannot support the illegal and ineffective action which is destroying what it claims to protect."

The party is against joining the European single currency; in favour of stronger animal welfare controls; and in favour, naturally, of greater environmental protection.

The campaign was given a boost yesterday when Britain's best-known Green, Jonathon Porritt, came out of political retirement to help. The former party chair turned his back on day-to-day involvement seven years ago after a bitter wrangle over modernisation, but has remained a loyal member. "I think there is a very genuine chance that a small number of Green Euro candidates will get elected in Britain this time round, and I think that will have a bracing and wholly beneficial impact on not just the procedures of the European Parliament, but on the UK political scene as well," he said.