Alternative GM debate launched  
 LONDON (Reuters) - The debate on gene-spliced crops is stepping up a
gear with two of Britain`s largest retailers joining forces with the
Consumers` Association and Greenpeace to launch their own public forum
to thrash out the issues.

The government`s separate eight-week national dialogue on genetically
modified organisms draws to a close on Friday amid widespread criticism
of the way it was organised.

Anglo-Dutch food group Unilever, food retailer Co-operative Group,
Greenpeace, and the Consumers` Association said they have set up an
"independent GM citizens` jury" in a bid to aid government thinking as
it decides whether to allow GM crops to be grown commercially in

The government`s decision is expected later this year.

Greenpeace`s chief policy advisor Charlie Kronick said the public`s
views would be more fairly represented by the eight-week-long initiative
than at the government`s hearings.

"The public have been subjected to a barrage of propaganda courtesy of
GM advocates as well as sceptics," Kronick said.

"This is a chance for the government to hear the real concerns of real
people," he added.

The alliance said the jury would have two groups of 30 members each, all
of whom were handpicked from a wide mix of social backgrounds, ages,
ethnic groups and genders.


Meeting twice a week, jurors will expect to hear "witnesses" - to
include members from the farming, science and retail communities -
present their views on the technology.

Jurors will also have an opportunity to call in further witnesses at the
end of the period if needed, Consumers Association spokeswoman Samantha
Flack said.

Flack said a special monitoring panel had been appointed, which included
members of the biotechnology industry, to ensure that the results from
the GM jury are reliable.

Once finished, the jurors will produce a report at the end of September
outlining its conclusions and overall verdict, which will be then
presented to food, farming and environment ministers to review.

The government-backed debate that got underway on 3 July finally came to
end on Friday despite calls by lobby groups from all sides for an
extension, possibly until October.

The dialogue included the publication of a key report on the costs and
benefits associated with GM food and a series of public debates across
the country.

A key report on the science associated with GM crops and food is
expected to be published on Monday.