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Pres. Clinton, Prime Minister Blair on GM Foods

23 July 2000


Excerpt: President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair on GM Foods

(Clinton: Real issue to get best food to most people at lowest price) (1000)

President Clinton says the real issue in the debate over genetically modified (GM) foods is not the interests of agribusiness companies versus food safety or biodiversity, but rather how to get the best food to the largest number of people at the lowest possible price.

"For example, if we could get more of this golden rice, which is a genetically modified strain of rice, especially rich in vitamin A, out to the developing world, it could save 40,000 lives a day, people that are malnourished and dying," Clinton said July 23, responding to a question. Clinton made his comments as he and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair were posing for photographers before their bilateral meeting on the final day of the Group of Eight Summit in Okinawa.

Acknowledging continued differences between the United States and the European Union on the process of approving GM foods for sale, Clinton said, "all that I have ever asked on GM foods is that the decisions be based on clear science."

Blair acknowledged that there "are intensely held views on both sides of this argument." He noted that it was important that consumers should "know what it is that they're eating" -- a reference to labeling requirements for GM foods in Europe.

As to approving the sales of new GM foods, Blair said, "let's set up the best system, the best process available so that you get the real facts -- not the prejudices of one side or the commercial interest of one side, but the facts and the science. And then we can make judgements."

Following is the excerpt on GM foods from the transcript of Clinton and Blair's comments as they began their bilateral meeting:

(begin excerpt)

Q: Mr. President, do you think the Europeans are being too cautious on the issue of GM Foods? And perhaps the Prime Minister could also comment on that issue.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you know that I believe that. On the other hand, I believe every country, and certainly the European Union, has a right and a responsibility to assure food safety. The only thing I have ever asked on GM Foods is that the decisions be made based on clear science.

And I have certainly no objection to consumers knowing whether the food they buy are GM -- I think there's nothing wrong with people knowing that -- but knowledge only matters, knowledge of a certain category of things only matters if you know what it means underneath. So I think we should continue to do research, we should explore all alternatives. I can only tell you that I would never knowingly let the American people eat unsafe food.

Q: Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: At the risk of running into trouble on these issues back home from time to time, I just believe what is essential is that we recognize two things. The first is that this whole science of biotechnology is going -- I mean, I'm not an expert on it, but people tell me whose opinions I respect that this whole science of biotechnology is perhaps going to be, for the first half of the 21st century what information technology was to the last half of the 20th century. And therefore, it's particularly important, especially for a country like Britain that is a leader in this science of biotechnology, that we proceed according to the facts and the science.

And the second thing to say is that in respect to the facts and the science, I just hope we have an open and a fair debate. I mean, there are intensely held views on both sides of this argument, but the most important thing is that we get access to the best scientific evidence. Consumers should, of course, know what it is that they're eating and consuming. But for the consumers to make that judgment properly, they need the best science available. And that's what we've been working to in the UK.

As I say, it's not always popular to say that, but I think it's important because it's the right thing to do. And who knows what in 10, 20, 30 years will be the judgment about this new science. All I know is that our responsibility as leaders is to say to people, let's set up the best system, best process available so that you get the real facts -- not the prejudices of one side or the commercial interests of one side, but the facts and the science. And then we can make judgments.

THE PRESIDENT: Let me just make one other comment about this, because I'm not running for anything so I can say this. This tends to be treated as an issue of the interest of the agribusiness companies and earning big profits against food safety or some ultimate impact on biodiversity, which of course also should be studied. But that's not the real issue here.

The real issue is, how can you get the best food to the largest number of people in the world at the lowest possible price. That is the real issue. If it's safe -- that's the big issue. All the evidence that I've seen convinces me, based on what all the scientists now know, that it is. But, of course, every country has to deal with that.

But just for example, if we could get more of this golden rice, which is a genetically modified strain of rice, especially rich in vitamin A, out to the developing world, it could save 40,000 lives a day, people that are malnourished and dying. So this is a big issue, and it seems to me that's the way we ought to approach it, which is why I think we ought to, of course, be guided by the safety issues, but it ought to be a scientific judgment.

(end excerpt)

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