Prime Minister Tony Blair has admitted that genetically-modified (GM) crops may pose a health risk - on the eve of the first global conference on the new technology held this week in Edinburgh.
The Independent On Sunday, which first reported the admission, billed it as a dramatic U-turn after Blair's assertion a year ago that GM foods were safe enough for him and his family to eat.
Conceding that "there is cause for legitimate public concern", Blair said: "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."
Dr Arpad Pusztai, the scientist who was sacked when he publicised the first experimental evidence that some GM foods might be unsafe to eat and has campaigned for proper testing, said Blair's statement was "a step in the right direction to taking the precautionary principle much more seriously".
However, he and other scientists still dispute Blair's assertion that the modified maize and soya approved for sale in this country have been subjected to rigorous testing.
The conference heard from Stephen Druker, who co-ordinated a lawsuit against the USA's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to obtain mandatory testing and labelling of GM foods. During the case it emerged that the FDA had declared them safe, against the advice of its own experts, while claiming a broad scientific consensus on the issue. Yet more than 140 scientists have petitioned world governments to freeze GM releases until adequate safety tests have been carried out.
Pusztai planned to propose a technical testing programme at the Edinburgh conference. Because it is a global issue, he believes that the cost should be shared between states, and that the biotech companies who profit from the technology should contribute funds.
By Angela Frewin