Let the public act as official GM crops monitors, say MPs

MEMBERS OF the public should be appointed to powerful government bodies overseeing genetically modified crops, an influential Parliamentary committee has urged.

The Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee claimed yesterday that the addition of lay people would ensure that ethical concerns were added to the normal scientific advice given to ministers.

In its long-awaited report on government policy on the technology, the committee also called for much stricter curbs on biotechnology companies and an end to cabinet splits over GM issues.

The MPs said that more publicly funded research into GM crops and tougher restrictions on their commercial release were needed to improve public confidence in their safety.

As the first farm-scale trials of modified maize and oilseed rape were planted in Wiltshire and Lincolnshire yesterday, the committee called for a new protocol to give ministers greater control over such experiments.

It also backed English Nature's call for a moratorium on the commercial release of GM crops over the next two years, a view not shared by the Government.

The report was welcomed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, all of whom said it placed the Government under intense pressure to agree a two-year ban.

The report's main recommendation is for an over- arching advisory committee to incorporate "people's values" as well as expert advice into policy making.

The committee would setstrategy, assess the impact of the technology on biodiversity and give authoritative advice in response to public alarm.

In a joint statement, Jack Cunningham, Cabinet Office minister, and Michael Meacher, Environment minister, welcomed the report and promised a co-ordinated overhaul of the regulatory system when it published its own report in the next few weeks.