Renewed attack on GM crops as UK extends trials

The UK Environment Minister has extended the country's voluntary ban on the commercial growing of GM crops for three more years. Environmentalists denounced the trials, seizing on the admission that biotech companies may be able to secure licences to sell the trial crops to animal feed producers before three years are up.

“We are not impressed,” Harry Hadaway of the Soil Association, the UK’s organic food and farming organisation, told edie. “The Government seems to be in disarray. There is no coherent policy to protect consumers or the environment.”

The extension of the current voluntary moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops does not mean that UK GM acreage will decrease. With the extension of the moratorium comes the extension of the farm-scale GM crop trails. Many environmental groups have accused the Government of using these trials to introduce commercial-style GM growing to the UK (see related story).

The new agreement announced by Michael Meacher on 5 November limits the number of plantings of test crops to 20-25 fields per crop per year, although biotech companies can apply to the Scientific Steering Committee for additional plantings.

Although the Government has stated that “none of the produce from GM crop plantings in the UK will be used in a way which is of direct commercial benefit to the consent-holders during farm-scale evaluation period”, it has admitted that licences to sell the GM trial crops to UK animal feed producers cannot not be ruled out.

“It is blatantly, totally not true that GM trial crops are currently entering the food chain,” a Government GM policy spokesperson told edie. “We will continue to burn the trial crops until such time as licences to do something else with them are granted.” The Government spokesperson suggested that the UK is unlikely to issue licences for biotech companies to sell trial crops to animal feed producers while the Farm-Scale trials are on going.

Greenpeace accused the Government of extending the farm-scale trials for three years in the hope that by the end of the extension the commercial growing of GM crops will be less controversial with the UK public and EU politicians. “This way, the Government keeps alive the possibility of a GM crop industry that it so desperately wants, despite the firm rejection by consumers – but consumers aren’t buying GM food and won’t buy this moratorium either,” said Greenpeace.

Meacher sought to downplay public fears surrounding GM crops by refusing to use the words ‘ban’ or ‘moratorium’ to describe the extension by three years of further trials in lieu of commercial growing. “This agreement is not a ban or moratorium on GM crops; there are no legal, scientific or safety reasons for such action. It is an agreement that has been entered into freely and voluntarily by the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC), who are as keen to get the results of the biodiversity trials as government and the wider public,” he said.

SCIMAC is an organisation comprising the National Farmers Union, British Society of Plant Breeders, British Agrochemicals Association, UK Agricultural Supply Trade Association and the British Sugar Beet Seed Producers Association.

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