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Ministers are deluged with scientific advice. In the BSE crisis it was wrong and in the GM food debate it is divided. What are ministers to do? They should learn from past mistakes and be ready to impose their judgement on the experts

By Anthony Bevins   April 1999

The recent public fright over genetically-modified (GM) food should have taught New Labour a lesson: we still have some way to go before achieving joined-up government. A related lesson is that we do not have a proper system for overseeing the unending stream of expert advice which governments now receive.

Robert May, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said in a paper to MPs that the recent experience with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) explained why the British were more concerned about GM food than the Americans. But he added reassuringly: “Lessons have been learnt. We need to have much better lines…

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