GM Crops: Ministers Ban Commercial Use until 2003
McCarthy, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
THE COMMERCIAL growing of genetically modified crops will not take place in Britain until at least 2003 and may never happen at all, the Government announced yesterday.
The GM industry has agreed to delay all commercial plantings until the results of scientific trials of the effects of GM crop management on British farmland wildlife. The Government's conservation advisers, English Nature, fear these effects could be disastrous.
If the trials, due to finish at the end of 2002, show "significant damage" to insects, plants, flowers and birds, commercial GM plantings would never take place, the Environment minister, Michael Meacher, said. "If there are significant environmental downsides, we will not proceed," he said.
However, the Government ignited a new row when it admitted yesterday that some GM crops from the trials - spring and autumn oilseed rape and forage maize - might enter the human food chain. This would be the first GM material grown and offered for consumption in Britain, and would provide ammunition for eco- activists who have trashed trial plantings, claiming they are commercial growings by the back door.
The trials, to evaluate the effect on wildlife of the powerful new weedkillers that GM crops are engineered to tolerate, have been going on for a year.
This year's crops were destroyed after harvest, as none has yet received all appropriate growing licences. But if any receive the licences before the trials end, the Government says, it will have no power to order them destroyed.
Mr Meacher said the chance of the licences coming through was slight. Officials of the GM industry body, the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (Scimac), insisted that any such produce would be clearly labelled if it was sold. However, environmental groups questioned whether consumers would really be told that dairy products had come from cattle fed on crops from the trials. …