British GM maize hearings blocked

Government calls for postponement after variety testing rules found to have been breached

Controversial public hearings in the UK over whether a variety of genetically modified (GM) maize should be added to the national seeds list have ground to a halt after it emerged that testing rules had been breached.

Yesterday, the UK agriculture ministry called for the hearings to be postponed while it sought clarification from the European Commission. Environmental group Friends of the Earth claimed that the government's GM policy was in chaos and called on the variety's developer, Aventis, to "fall on its sword, admit defeat and withdraw its application".

The government's move follows a revelation at the end of October that of two years of testing of Chardon LL carried in France, only one had been directly overseen by the French authorities. EU law requires two years of officially sanctioned testing.

Variety testing is the final hurdle before any new crop can be planted. It is intended to demonstrate that any new variety is distinct, uniform and stable and that it has value for cultivation and use. Testing is not intended to prove safety in the case of GM crops, which must already have won marketing approval under the EU's deliberate release directive before variety testing can start.

The development has EU-wide implications, according to a UK agriculture ministry spokesperson, because other member states also rely on French data. It is unclear whether any have done so for this particular variety, though the Netherlands may have already added Chardon LL to its national seeds list on the basis of the French data, the spokesperson said.

Follow Up:
UK agriculture ministry, tel: +44 20 72 70 80 80; Friends of the Earth England, Wales & {Northern Ireland, tel: +44 20 74 90 15 55, and press release.

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