SETTING up an inquiry is a usual manoeuvre of Government when it cannot make up its mind or when it just does not know what to do.

Easier than taking a decision, it doesn't involve putting your head above the parapet.

If the inquiry needs tests, whether scientific or otherwise, so much the better. If the tests run for years that is ideal, because the minister who starts the process is unlikely to be in post when the process finishes, so someone else will have the decision to make.

The problem is that eventually someone has to make a decision. One of the things politicians, both national and local, like least is to have to make a decision. Wrong ones come back to haunt the decision maker. Someone once decided that the northern by-pass for York should be single carriageway. It does not look like a very good decision from where we are now. Hindsight, however, is a wonderful thing.

The decision process on genetic modification is running its course. The trials have now been completed. What do we find? They are inconclusive. In certain circumstances, depending on which crop is concerned, GM may be beneficial or harmful depending on where one is standing.

What did we expect? If making the decision was going to be easy, it would have been made ages ago. So that easy way out is not available. If the trials had generated a clear steer, one way or the other, there would have been sighs of relief all round. They did not, and so it is back to the beginning.

The vested interests are trotting out the usual arguments. Friends Of The Earth have set themselves up to represent organic farmers and consumers. They have never claimed to be neutral and have always opposed the use of GM technology. They have ruined many trial plots by their actions. There are, however, many organic farmers and consumers, both those who eat organics and those who do not, who must have a voice.

On the other side stand the seed houses, who have developed the genetically modified seed. Many of them are American. Like all companies they are trading to make a profit. There is nothing wrong with that. The main one, Monsanto, also sells the herbicide to which some of the seed is tolerant. They stand to make major profit if the technology is licensed for this country.

In between stand the rest of us. The farmers hear contradictory stories that the technology is useful and cheaper and that it is not. The poor consumers do not know what to believe.

We have been eating genetically modified maize and using modified cotton for years. It has been imported from other countries and used in animal feeds and for manufacturing for years. So far as we have noticed there are no side effects harmful to human life.

Consumers are uneasy however. They are fearful that this mysterious science is not being applied for their benefit, and certainly not for the benefit of the starving millions. They are probably right.

So it really is going to be up to politicians to come up with a decision. Are they going to side with the companies and allow commercial exploitation of the technology and, therefore, please the mostly American shareholders of those companies? Or are they to give the benefit of the doubt to the antis, and preserve the status quo?

Consumers do not want the technology to be commercially used. I think they are the ones who matter.

Updated: 12:10 Tuesday, October 21, 2003