Published on Sunday, February 27, 2000 by the BBC
Tony Blair Shifts On GM Food
Tony Blair has acknowledged that genetically-modified foods are potentially damaging to human health and the environment.
The prime minister said the jury was still out on the new food technology and that there was cause for legitimate public concern.
Mr Blair argued that the potential benefits of GM technology were considerable, but insisted that his government was not an unquestioning supporter of GM food, and that its first priority would always be to provide the highest level of protection for the public.
His comments appear to mark a significant shift in his attitude to GM technology.
Only a year ago Mr Blair expressed his "frustration" at the outcry over genetic modification, and said he was sufficiently confident about the safety of GM foods to eat them himself.
But in an article for the Independent on Sunday, Mr Blair writes: "There is no doubt that there is potential for harm, both in terms of human safety and in the diversity of our environment, from GM foods and crops.
"It's why the protection of the public and the environment is, and will remain, the government's over-riding priority."
Mr Blair continues: "But there is no doubt, either, that this new technology could bring benefits for mankind.
"Some of the benefits from biotechnology are already being seen in related areas such as the production of life-saving medicines ...
"GM crops, too, have the potential for good - helping feed the hungry by increasing yields, enabling new strains of crops to be grown in hostile conditions, or which are resistant to pests and disease."
'Fantastic leap forward'
Mr Blair adds: "The key word here is potential, both in terms of harm and benefit.
"The potential for good highlights why we were right not to slam the door on GM food or crops without further research.
"The potential for harm shows why we are right to proceed very cautiously indeed. And this is exactly what we are doing."
And he concludes: "I can promise that no GM food will be put on the market here without going through the most rigorous safety assessments in the world ... no GM crops will be grown commercially in this country until we are satisfied there will be no unacceptable impact on the environment."
Mr Blair's article was welcomed by Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the Earth, who said: "This is a fantastic leap forward.
"For the first time Mr Blair seems to be listening to the people on these issues. The article signifies a real change of approach both over GM technology and on environmental issues as a whole."