Leading Article: Doubters' victory

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The Independent Online
WHAT A good week this has been for those who believe in the power of the consumer. Nothing, we had been told, was to stand in the way of the progress that was genetically modified food; only Luddites and hysterics, we were led to understand, had doubts about health implications; why wait for further testing, said those who knew better, when the technology was available now? The consumers didn't accept any of this, and made it clear that they wanted more information before buying new foods. One by one the supermarkets, which had started selling GM products without so much as a blush, began to change their tune. Restaurants, said the Government, should identify their use of modified ingredients.

Now the Government itself, as we revealed last week, is plotting with biotech companies to create a line of retreat, though naturally it will never be presented as one. Having blustered so determinedly about the speed of advance, neither the Prime Minister nor his American and multi-national friends can allow themselves to be seen changing gear as a result of outside pressure. The compromise is a quiet agreement to postpone commercial development for long enough to allow the completion of testing designed to determine whether the technology is safe. Good. Supported by a remarkable number of readers, this newspaper has campaigned vigorously for these very objectives, clearer labelling and a moratorium on commercial development pending further tests. We are not there yet and we shall continue our careful - unhysterical - scrutiny. We believe there may well be great benefits to come from genetic modification, but wish to see first the necessary safeguards in place. That is what the consumers want. That is what the consumers have shown they can achieve.