Archived press release
Press & Media

Friends of the Earth today (Sunday) called on Government Science Minister Lord Sainsbury to resign following revelations of his involvement in Cabinet level strategy discussions on promoting the biotechnology industry. The Minister's personal financial interests in biotech companies detailed in press reports today [1] represent a clear conflict of interest.

Lord Sainsbury was present at a Cabinet Office Committee meeting, held earlier this month, to discuss how to promote the biotechnology industry in the UK and Europe. The Committee minutes show discussions on: "making the public aware of clearly beneficial aspects of biotechnology, such as biopharmaceuticals, could be a useful way of creating a rational environment for debate on more controversial aspects" [2].

The Minister, who is a close ally of Tony Blair, has long been seen as a key advocate for the biotechnology industry. He is also known to have a personal financial interest in its development, with investments in two biotech companies placed in a blind trust when he became a minister [3].

Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper said:

"There is a clear conflict between Lord Sainsbury's role as a Minister, responsible for looking after the public interest, and his personal role as a financial investor in biotech business. It is unacceptable that he has been involved in discussions to promote biotechnology, from which he could stand to gain personally.

"At a time when the Government appears intent on ignoring the views of the British public on GM crops, this business influence at the heart of Government must be rooted out. If he will not resign, the Prime Minister should sack him."

As well as having shares in the biotech industry, Sainsbury is reported to have injected millions of pounds into the study of plant genetics at the John Innes Centre, which carries out GM crop research, through his Gatsby Charitable Foundation [3]. And by 2003, Sainsbury had given more than 11 million to the Labour Party.


[1] Observer 22/02/04

[2] Cabinet Office Science and Biotechnology Sub-Committee (SCI(BIO)) meeting 11/02/04. Copies available from Friends of the Earth.

[3] Plant genetics-related investment companies Diatech Ltd and Innotech Investments Ltd. Innotech has a substantial stake in a firm called Paradigm Genetics involved in a joint GM-related venture with Monsanto.

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