Ministers have taken the first step to re-establish genetically engineered food
In the 1990s, 60 per cent of supermarket food contained modified ingredients
By 2004, 84 per cent of Brits said they would not eat genetically modified food
Public reaction to re-establishing GM may now be more favourable
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Hold on to your hats! One of the most furious rows of recent decades — when public resistance frustrated a drive by the New Labour government to introduce genetically engineered crops and foods — seems about to reignite.
For after almost 20 years of near-silence over the controversial produce, ministers have this week taken the first step to re-establish it in Britain.
This will make it easier for research to be conducted into crops produced via gene editing, a process allied to — but different from — the genetic modification (GM) so bitterly disputed around the turn of the millennium. And it is just the first of a series of moves to get the genetically engineered produce into our fields and on to our dinner plates.
Old adversaries are dusting off their arguments. But public reaction may now be more favourable.
Activist group Earth First demonstrates against genetically modified crops in 2000
Back in the late 1990s, 60 per cent of the food in supermarkets contained genetically modified ingredients. Some GM crops had been approved: 53 others were awaiting the green light.
Tony Blair — with his usual hubris — was boasting of making Britain Europe’s GM hub.
When a few voices, led by Prince Charles, raised doubts, he dismissed them as ‘a flash in the pan’. But that flash became a conflagration as the public turned against GM and the firms behind it, most notably the U.S. giant Monsanto. The more the public heard, the more questions it had.
These included whether genes would spread from modified crops to create superweeds, whether GM foods were safe to eat and whether the regulations were strong enough. The Mail was active in covering the debate and seeking answers.
Wheat being harvested on the South Downs
Sometimes the discourse got virulent. In 2002, the BBC broadcast a drama on the issue, Fields Of Gold, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Anna Friel, and written by the then editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, and novelist Ronan Bennett.
This was branded dishonest by rival newspapers, and as ‘an error-strewn piece of propaganda’ by the President of the Royal Society, Lord May. Bennett denounced this as ‘an ugly little conspiracy by those with a vested interest in discrediting it and personal grudges to settle’.
By 2004, 84 per cent of Britons said they would not eat GM food. Supermarkets had long stopped selling it, in the face of public hostility, and no GM crops have yet been cultivated in Britain. But they went on being grown and eaten widely in America.
Now, after some important scientific advances, both sides again have everything to play for.
The main scientific development is the emergence of gene editing, which involves changing a plant or animal’s DNA by altering its own genes, through cutting and splicing, thus speeding up a process that might happen naturally.
By contrast, the old genetic modification introduced genes from different species altogether — such as from peppers into bananas, or from jellyfish into mice — which could never happen in nature.
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Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10043255/As-ministers-plan-change-DNA-crops-animals-leading-expert-examines-implications.html1136