Public debate on GM crops before commercialisation, says Beckett

The prospects for the commercial development of GM crops in the UK looks uncertain today after a major shift in Government policy on the future of GM technology.

In a little-publicised response [published 17/1/02] to a critical report into the controversial GM farm scale evaluations (FSE), Environment Minister, Margaret Beckett says that:

* the results of the GM evaluations are insufficient to allow for the commercial growing of GM crops,
* there will be a public debate on whether GM crops should be commercially grown;
* there is a case for separation distances to be massively increased to protect neighbouring farmers.

The admissions are contained in the Government's response to the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission's report, Crops on trial (www.aebc.gov.uk).

Commercial growing: The Government has distanced itself from the results of the farm scale trials by declaring that the decision on growing GM will now "be based on more that an analyse of the FSE results" and that "there will be a public debate on the possible commercial growing of GM crops."

Separation distances: The current separation distances between GM and non-GM crops have been set to ensure contamination is a maximum of 1% (50 metres for conventional oilseed rape). The Government now agrees "there is a case for separation distances to be greater so as to ensure a maximum of, for example, 0.1% cross-pollination". This would represent a huge increase in separation distances. The EC proposed last year that for oilseed rape seed production to achieve a contamination threshold of 0.3% would require a separation distance of 5km.

Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: "Finally the Government appears to realise that pollen from GM crops threatens neighbouring crops and the environment. The current GM separation distances are woefully inadequate. A small country like Britain can't grow GM and non-GM crops together. The Government must pull the plug on this risky and unpopular experiment for once and for all."