PM attacked on GM crops

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THE GOVERNMENT will try to reassure the public today that genetically modified food and crops are safe after a day of confusion over its own policy on the technology.

Ministers will try to regain the initiative after The Independent's report yesterday that the Chief Scientific Adviser had called for a four- year ban on the release of GM crops.

Their problems were compounded yesterday when the European Commission announced a freeze on licences for modified plants after research showing that GM pollen can kill Monarch butterflies.

Jack Cunningham, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, is expected to announce a tougher regulatory framework when he presents the results of a review of GM policy. However, he will leave open the possibility of "limited" commercial release of crops well before the end of a four- year programme of farm trials.

The Tories and the Liberal Democrats seized on comments by Sir Robert May, the Government's most senior scientist, that ministers could not contemplate agreeing to the commercial release of some crops before 2003 at the earliest. They also attacked the creation of a "spin unit" by Mr Cunningham to manipulate debate on the issue by "revising" the reports of scientists.

Tim Yeo, the shadow Agriculture Secretary, attacked the Government's "confused and discredited" policy. "We could be suffering irreversible damage to the British environment because of the Government's unwillingness to act and the refusal of the Prime Minister to admit that he's wrong, because of the close connection between this Government and the American administration and the commercial interests in this field," he said.

Growth of a monster, page 3; Leading article, Review, page 3; Deborah Orr, Review, page 5