The UK Government has failed to increase the separation distances around the latest round of GM crop trials, despite an admission by Environment Minister, Margaret Beckett that the current distances may not prevent neighbouring crops from significant levels of GM pollution.

Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FOE) believes that the separation distances for GM oil seed rape trials should be at least 5km.  The separation distance between GM oil seed rape and conventional varieties is currently 50 metres, leading FOE to describe the announcement as “reckless”.

Pete Riley, GM campaigner at FOE said: “The separation distance around these GM crop trials are pathetic. If they go ahead neighbouring and organic crops within a 5km radius will be at risk from GM contamination. The Government knows the separation distances are inadequate but has recklessly failed to act.

“Earlier today Food Standard’s Agency revealed that 15% of bakery products were contaminated with GM soya. These trials may lead to similar contamination incidents in the food chain and deny the public its right to say no to GMOs”

Last September the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission published a report which was critical of the FSEs. 

One of its recommendations was that “the programme of FSEs should be completed subject to…the Government working with SCIMAC and representatives of the organic farming industry to set adequate separation distances for the remaining trials to ensure that the interests of all parties are accommodated.”

Earlier this month Environment Minister, Margaret Beckett, responded that “the separation distances for the FSEs have been set to ensure that cross-pollination is a maximum of 1%.  However…there is a case for separation distances to be greater so as to ensure a maximum of, for example, 0.1% cross-pollination ”. 

To achieve this FOE estimates that separation distances should be at least 5 km. Last year the European Commission said that a 5km separation distance would be needed to ensure that oilseed rape seed production achieved a contamination threshold of 0.3%.

Earlier today the FSA revealed that 15 % of bakery products surveyed contained GM ingredients – none of them were labelled. Three samples were found to contain more than 1% GM soya. Such products are required to be labelled as containing GM under EC regulation.  It is not known how the products came to be contaminated with GM material as most European food manufacturers now avoid GM ingredients in response to overwhelming consumer rejection of the new technology.