Plan to turn GM crops into fuel / We must ban all GM crops (27/9/2003)

Plan to turn GM crops into fuel
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
The Independent on Sunday, 28 September 2003

Biotechnology firms are pressing to be allowed to grow GM crops across more than a million acres of Britain to provide "green'' fuel for cars, as ministers become increasingly wary about licensing them for food, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
GM wheat, sugar beet and oilseed rape could be converted into substitutes for petrol and diesel. The plan is being pitched as an environmentally friendly move that will help the battle against global warming. But environmentalists say it will avoid few of the main hazards associated with the technology.
The plan, detailed in as yet unpublished evidence to Parliament, reveals growing pessimism in the industry about the prospects of ever persuading supermarkets and consumers to accept GM food. A government survey published last week revealed that more than 90 per cent of participants rejected the technology and only 8 per cent said they would be happy to eat GM food.
Ministers are back-tracking on plans to give the go-ahead for the commercial growth of GM crops in Britain. A decision was originally planned for this month but has now been put back into next year. As disclosed by The Independent on Sunday last week, they have become convinced that the erosion of public trust in Tony Blair and his government as a result of the Iraq war and the treatment of Dr David Kelly has made it politically impossible to push through such an unpopular decision in the near future.
Written evidence by the Agriculture Biotechnology Council - representing GM firms - to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee describes growing modified crops for fuel as a "win-win solution for the rural economy and the environment''.
It adds: "Producing GM crops for non-food purposes, as a renewable source of alternative fuels, may also provide the basis for a more rational and balanced consideration of the technology and its potential benefits, away from the disproportionate hysteria which has so often accompanied the debate over GM foods.''
The Government plans to provide 5 per cent of all the fuel used by cars, lorries and buses from crops by 2009, as part of a drive to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, the main cause of global warning. The industry's evidence says that this could be achieved by planting 1.7 million acres with GM oilseed rape or more than 1.25 million acres of GM wheat and sugar beet.
It says that the increased productivity of the modified crops could save the Treasury GBP85m a year in subsidies for the alternative fuel and that further modifications can increase the yields of oil from the crops, making them even more economical. And it adds that using the technology would also combat global warming by reducing the amount of fuel that farmers use in spreading agricultural chemicals and tilling the soil.

Environmentalists, however, say that the main dangers associated with GM crops - that genes will spread, creating "super-weeds" and contaminating conventional and organic crops - are unaltered by the plan. Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said: "Having failed to persuade the British people and UK supermarkets that it has got a product worth buying, the industry is shifting its attention to growing crops for fuel. But there is absolutely no difference at all in the risks that will be posed to the environment."
We must ban all GM crops
The Independent on Sunday, 28 September 2003

The outcome of the public consultation on genetically modified (GM) crops, published last week, makes awkward reading for the Government and for Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, in particular. The conclusion of the debate - GM Nation - revealed that more than 90 per cent of participants rejected the technology, while only 8 per cent would be happy to eat GM food. This hostility comes at a time when public trust in the Government is at an all-time low as a result of the war in Iraq and the Hutton inquiry. It will surely force ministers to revise plans to ratify a decision this month, which would have given the green light to growing GM crops commercially...

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