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UK calls off public dialogue on GM

By Lorraine Heller , 20-Sep-2010

UK ministers have called off a public dialogue on genetic modification (GM), which had been requested by the previous government to explore consumers’ views and concerns surrounding the use of the technology in food.

However, speaking at the British Science Festival last week, University and Science Minister David Willetts said that the dialogue would not be continuing in its current form.

The GM steering group, which was set up in November last year, was being co-coordinated by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) to examine consumer understanding of GM and its potential risks and benefits.

Designed to be a 12-month project, it aimed to shape and manage public dialogue on food and the use of genetic modification.

The independent group was chaired by John Curtice, Professor of Politics and Director of the Social Statistics, from the University of Strathclyde. The other steering group members were Dr Guy Barker, Garth Boyd, Professor Ian Crute, Alan Hedges, Lindsey Kearton, Paul Rooke, Professor Geraldine Schofield, Dr Jack Stilgoe, Professor Joyce Tait, Dr Helen Wallace and Professor Brian Wynne.

Review past GM dialogues

However, in a keynote speech at the British Science festival on Thursday, Willetts said: “I’m announcing today that the GM dialogue project will not continue in its current format. However, it's vital to engage people of all ages on scientific issues, so that they have a real say about developments which can affect all of us.”

“Instead we are taking this valuable opportunity to step back and review past dialogues on GM and other areas of science to ensure we understand how best to engage the public over such issues.”

The FSA also said that it has received confirmation from ministers that the GM dialogue will be discontinued.

“The details of the Government’s policy on the use of GM technology in food and agriculture are still being determined and any future public engagement will be an element of this,” said the agency.

Willetts said that all policies will be based on “robust evidence”.

“Developing effective and appropriate public engagement will need to be an element of this.”

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