Lord Sainsbury (Biotech Backer) Chairs Public Consultation on GMOs for the Government

On 15 December the government launched a drive “to help scientists and policy makers understand the attitudes of the general public and their information requirements” on genetically modified food and other applications of new biological technologies. Lord Sainsbury, who is a DTI Minister, will chair this new public consultation but Friends of the Earth (FOE) is treating the matter with suspicion on two grounds:

  • Lord Sainsbury has a history of close links to the biotech industry. FOE believes this conflict of interest makes him incompatible with his responsibilities as a Minister over policy, research programme funding and public consultation processes concerning the development of biotechnology in the UK. Lord Sainsbury has financed two companies involved in biotechnology: one of these is Diatech Ltd (set up with the financial help of Lord Sainsbury) which is an Associate Member of the Bioindustry Association, an industry group whose purpose is to encourage and promote the biotechnology sector of the UK economy. The other company is Innotech Investments Ltd (also funded by Lord Sainsbury) which has invested in, and holds shares in, Paradigm Genetics Inc., a North Carolina based agricultural biotechnology company. Innotech also owns Floranova Ltd, a Norfolk based plant breeding company and Elite Seeds, a seed and plant distribution company.

  • FOE suspects the Government may be trying to change public attitudes to GM food and crops, instead of responding to public concern by changing its policies. Considering that the Government as a whole - especially MAFF and the DTI - has consistently taken a pro-biotech line despite overwhelming public rejection of GM crops and food, FOE is not confident that they are approaching the consultation process with a 'listening ear'.

Charles Secrett, director of FOE, has written to Tony Blair asking him to reconsider Lord Sainsbury's position in all areas of work relating to biotechnology and GMOs.

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