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Ministers prepare to sell GM to the public.  By Geoffrey Lean Environment Editor. 09 June 2002

Ministers are determined to grow GM crops commercially in Britain as soon as possible and are setting out to persuade the public to accept them.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has told The Independent on Sunday that it is planning a campaign to "dispel the myths'' that have cast doubt on the crops.

The campaign is formally billed as a "debate'', but the department makes it clear that its purpose is to bring the public round to the Prime Minister's pro-GM stance.

Ministers are worried that the powerful BBC TV drama, Fields of Gold, being screened over the weekend, will turn people against the technology, and officials say that one of the main aims of the campaign will be to counter its effects on public opinion.

Tony Blair remains completely committed to GM technology and is deeply frustrated by the failure of the public to accept repeated Government assurances that it is safe. His speech on science last month, which denounced anti-GM protesters, was designed to be the first shot in the campaign.

GM crops are being grown in a series of farm-scale experiments across Britain, which are due to end next year. Ministers originally planned to make a decision on the crops once these were finished, clearing the way for them to be grown commercially from 2004. But the trials were not even designed to test the effects of GM crops on the environment, concentrating merely on the impact of the pesticides used on them.

Partly because of this, the Government's own Agriculture and Environment Bio-Technology Commission, which includes representatives of the GM industry, has warned that they will not provide enough information to make the decision, and called for a national debate.

Meanwhile, reports by European Commission and English Nature conclude that genes from GM crops are likely to escape to contaminate other crops.