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Food: The use of genetic modification – A public dialogue

Announcement by Science Minister on GM public dialogue

In his keynote speech at the British Science Festival Dinner on 16 September, Science Minister David Willetts announced that the FSA’s Food: the use of GM dialogue project will not continue in its current format. However, he emphasised that the Government is committed to engaging the public with science.

Mr Willetts said:

“I’m announcing today that the GM dialogue project will not continue in its current format. However, it's vital to engage people of all ages on scientific issues, so that they have a real say about developments which can affect all of us. 

“Instead we are taking this valuable opportunity to step back and review past dialogues on GM and other areas of science to ensure we understand how best to engage the public over such issues.”

The details of the Government’s policy on the use of GM technology in food and agriculture are still being determined, but all policies will be based on robust evidence. Developing effective and appropriate public engagement will need to be an element of this.

BIS press release

Sciencewise-ERC, as the UK national centre on public dialogue in policy making involving science and technology issues, has advised a range of government bodies on public dialogue on complex and potentially controversial issues. Sciencewise-ERC stands ready to offer its experience and support in reviewing past experience in GM and other dialogues and in considering how best to engage the public over such issues.


Sciencewise-ERC has been advising on the development of a process for public dialogue by the Food Standards Agency on Food: The use of genetic modification – A public dialogue.  In the development of the project, we have been working with the FSA on framing the dialogue and on the appointment of the dialogue contractor. Recent resignations from the Steering Group have led to media coverage, linked to below. Sciencewise-ERC maintains our commitment to public dialogue as a way forward. However, Sciencewise-ERC has determined that the FSA dialogue as currently planned no longer meets Sciencewise-ERC principles and has advised the FSA accordingly. Sciencewise-ERC is continuing to advise on how a well framed and conducted dialogue, in line with Sciencewise-ERC principles, could take place.

Details of this dialogue process can be found on the FSA project webpage.


Sciencewise-ERC publishes review of past public engagement
with genetic modification (GM) - Read report and make comments

Letter of resignation of Helen Wallace from the Steering Group
Statement on resignation of Helen Wallace from the Steering Group

Letter of resignation of Brian Wynne from the Steering Group
Statement on resignation of Brian Wynne from the Steering Group


Letter from Soil Association and others to FSA Chair Jeff Rooker, 7 June
FSA Chair Jeff Rooker's letter to the Soil Association and others, 16 June

Illustrative coverage

Academic quits GM food committee

BBC Newsnight, 3 June 2010
“Susan Watts looks into what has been going on and whether the public discourse over GM foods is now in doubt.”
Includes interview with John Curtice and Helen Wallace
Available on BBC iPlayer till 10 June – from about 34mins 30 seconds

BBC Today Programme
Food agency 'promotes GM'
Today: Wednesday 2nd June


BBC, Farming Today, 8 June
A leading scientist who has quit his post at the Food Standards Agency explains why science alone can't decide whether GM foods should be developed. (Interview with Professor Brian Wynne)
Available on BBC iPlayer till 6am on 15 June. From about 9mins 30secs.

Academic resigns from FSA group over GM
GM public consultation has 'no credibility' - say campaigners
Caroline Spelman backs GM crops

Letters to Telegraph, Saturday 5th
The Food Standards Agency and the advocacy of genetically modified crops

Academic resigns from UK food watchdog over 'GM propaganda'
GM lobby helped draw up crucial report on Britain's food supplies
GM food deserves better than this witch-hunt  (Colin Blakemore)

Daily Mail - includes 'public' comments calling for FSA to be scrapped.
Advisers walk out in fury over £500,000 GM food PR exercise
Cynical sham that insults public
GM food and a sinister bid to twist public opinion
Halt the 'biased' GM review, minister told amid fears over emails linking biotech firms to FSA

Nature News
Without effective public engagement, there will be no synthetic biology in Europe, Colin Macilwain

Farmer's Guardian
GM debate fury after FSA blasts 'anti-science' culture

BBC, 14 September
Science needs a better dialogue with the public

BBC, 14 September
Lord Sainsbury calls for new debate on GM crops

Press Association, 14 September
Ex-minister seeks GM crop debate

Welcoming debate

Sciencewise-ERC supports open discussion on the potential ways that the government, public, scientists, the media and NGOs can engage  around complex, controversial issues.  We recognise that much discussion and thinking around approaches is going on already. For example: