UK puts brake on GM crop cultivation

New controls introduced on commercial planting, NGO calls for moratorium rejected

New controls on commercial growing of genetically modified (GM) crops in Britain were announced today by the UK government during evidence given by ministers to a parliamentary hearing. They include a voluntary undertaking by British plant breeders not to launch any modified crop varieties commercially for the next year, and not to launch any GM insect-resistant crops for the next three years.

The move will put a significant brake on the commercial introduction of GM crops in the UK, but has been immediately criticised by environmental NGOs, which say it falls far short of their call for a clear moratorium on the introduction of GM crops. Official conservation advisors and industry groups have welcomed the government's initiative, however.

Another main element of the new policy announced today will be strict controls on commercial plantings of GM crops at individual farms, including minimum separation distances from non-modified crops. All plantings will be closely assessed for their ecological effects, and test results will be compared with those from conventional crops.

It will be backed up by a code of practice being drawn up by the industry group: Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC), which represents farmers, plant breeders and agrochemical firms. The code is likely to call for segregation of modified crops from non-modified varieties, monitoring of effects and clear communication and record-keeping at each stage of the supply chain.

In an associated initiative, environment minister Michael Meacher and agriculture minister Jeff Rooker announced that a new ministerial committee would be created to coordinate government biotechnology policy. They also confirmed that the government's advisory committee on releases of GM crops will be asked to consider indirect as well as direct environmental implications. And they indicated support for the creation of both a stakeholder forum and an ethical commission to look at broader issues raised by crop biotechnology.

Mr Meacher also said that the UK was pushing its EU colleagues to expand the scope of a 1990 EU law on the release of modified organisms to address indirect and cumulative risks of releases (ENDS Daily 11 September). The UK supports the introduction of mandatory monitoring for environmental effects of all crops commercially grown at EU level.

The new approach was described by Mr Meacher today as one of "managed development". It would provide a "breathing space," he said, during which data could be systematically compiled about the implications of commercialisation.

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 171 890 3000.

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