Eastern Daily Press, October 27, 2001
The Government, Norfolk County Council and the agro-chemical industry were accused of running scared of public debate after a major GM conference planned for Norwich was cancelled.
Speakers on all sides of the contentious issue of genetically modified food were due to attend the event on Monday.
But leading national figures in the anti-GM camp were angry when they learned that the meeting would not be open to the public, more time was being given to pro-GM/government speakers and the venue would be the John Innes Institute, which has been at the forefront of GM research.
Yesterday, Norfolk farmer and ex-Greenpeace executive director and government minister Lord Peter Melchett said it was a "nonsense" that the meeting would have been behind closed doors.
He claimed it was "bizarre and unacceptable" that representatives from the chemical industry would not participate in a public meeting and said the John Innes Institute was a "highly partisan location".
Norfolk County Council, which had organised the event said it had never been intended as a public meeting.
The authority decided to cancel the conference after Lord Melchett, who is now national policy adviser for the Soil Association, Dr Sue Mayer,
of GeneWatch, and Peter Riley, senior Real Food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, pulled out.
A county council statement said the authority was "very disappointed" that the conference had to be cancelled.
It had been organised to allow county, district and county councillors the chance to hear more on the topic from speakers from both sides.
The statement said: "The conference was never intended as an open public event, but as an opportunity for invited local representatives to get
the facts from both sides in a forum where all speakers could be assured of being heard."
The council said the John Innes Centre was a "good-quality, accessible venue in Norwich which hosts all kinds of events unconnected with the work of the centre."
The statement added: "The council did not feel it could respond to the requests made by these particular speakers, which were not made by others taking part."
Lord Melchett said pro-GM speakers would have been given 40 per cent more time to speak.
He said a recent report to the Government from the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commiss-ion had "strongly called" for all debates on the issue to be held in public.
Lord Melchett said it was "rubbish" to suggest that government speakers would be neutral as they were sponsoring the farm-scale GM crop trials.
Adrian Bebb, of Friends of the Earth, said they were suspicious about the reasons for cancellation.
Ingrid Floering-Blackman, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for the environment, made the decision to cancel the event.
She was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Mike Halls, head of environment at the county council's planning and transportation department, said it would have been difficult to control a debate with the public present.
He said the John Innes Centre was one of the best venues in Norwich.