Brian Johnson of English Nature [the UK Government's conservation advisors], said that if GM was grown commercially, then wildlife would suffer even more than it had been shown to in the field trials. "The reality is that farmers will do things that they should not do. Farmland wildlife is at a low ebb. We cannot risk any further reductions," he said. (item 2)
"After this report there can be no pretence that it is possible to grow organic and GMs crops at the same time in Britain." (item 1)
Report warns of risks posed by GM crops
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Wednesday November 26, 2003
A government-backed fund must be set up to compensate farmers who lose money because their crops are contaminated by GM varieties, before commercial growing of the crops is permitted, the government's official advisers said yesterday.
The Biotechnology Commission said the government should ensure that the consumer continued to have the choice to buy British-produced non-GM food.
This would mean having legally enforceable distances between GM crops and conventional crops, to make sure cross contamination remained below the 0.9% threshold set by the EU. Above that level, food must be labelled as having GM ingredients.
The commission also agreed that with some varieties of GM crops it would probably be impossible to grow the same species of organic crops in Britain without cross-contamination.
The government had to decide how to reconcile its desire to expand the organic sector of British agriculture at the same time as introducing GM crops. The commission concluded it might prove impossible.
The commission was still divided on many issues - including whether organic agriculture could, or should, be protected from GM crops.
Members failed to agree on a compensation scheme for organic farmers who lost their status and so the value of their produce, if GM contamination occurred through no fault of their own.
Some members wanted the government-backed scheme for conventional farmers to pay out to organic farmers as well if their business was lost because of GM contamination.
Those representing the bio-tech sector on the commission refused to accept this idea, principally because the organic movement set its own voluntary contamination limit of 0.1%.
The commission said it was so concerned that contamination from GM crops would rob consumers of their right to choose conventional or organic food that another long period of trials and close monitoring was necessary.
This would not prevent the commercial growing of GM crops but ideally, with a new government and industry voluntary agreement, plantings would be on a relatively small scale so that proposed crop separation distances could be verified and potential wider damage investigated.
Members also agreed that a change in the law would be needed to enable civil compensation to be paid for repairs if GM crops damaged the wider environment. For example, if GM traits were transferred to wild plants, those responsible should pay for remedial action.
The scheme could be run by the Environment Agency, which could carry out the remedial work itself and then charge those responsible.
Professor Malcolm Grant, chairman of the commission, said: "In our report we have made no assumption whether the commercial growing of GM crops will get the go-ahead or not. What we have been doing is to examine in depth the implications of commercialisation and its future management and applied the precautionary principle."
Lord Melchett, for the Soil Association, which sets standards for organic agriculture, said: "After this report there can be no pretence that it is possible to grow organic and GMs crops at the same time in Britain.
"The report has properly explored the issues and left the government to make a series of political decisions about whether it wants to support the consumer, who wants a choice to be GM free and to buy organic, or to support the bio-tech giants."
But the Agriculture Biotechnology Council, the bio-tech industry body, said the commission stated that if sensible guidelines were followed, there was no reason why GM, non-GM and organic crops should not be able to co-exist.
Debate ends, all passion spent
Wednesday November 26, 2003
When, years and years ago, the government announced a public debate and field trials on GM crops, it could hardly imagine that the final scenes would be played out in the basement of a west London hotel whose address had been kept secret until the last minute - or that both sides would be as polarised as ever.
Yesterday was a gathering of Acre, the government's advisory committee on releases into the environment, charged with recommending whether Britain goes ahead with GM or not. It should have been a rollicking affair, as interested parties gave their last word on the field scale trials.
All were there, but, it seemed, it was a case of all passion spent.
Lord Melchett of the Soil Association, once caught trampling GM crops, was talking amicably to Monsanto. Friends of the Earth, in woolly hats and jumpers, took tea with Bayer, another GM company. Scientists sat down beside activists, and district councillors chatted with civil servants.
If nothing else has been learned in five years, all sides can now put a face to their enemies.
Acre's 12 independent scientists had done three years of field-scale trials. Having concluded, broadly, that two of the crops tested were bad for wildlife and that one was better, the 12 asked for last submissions, and received more than 60 - some succinct.
Ms Ariel Blackadder of Fife Green party was adamant: "Britain does not want them." Colin Eady, identified only as "a biotechnologist" with a doctorate, said he had been "horrified" by the reporting of the trials results.
Acre had asked some key players to appear in person. Brian Johnson of English Nature, said that if GM was grown commercially, then wildlife would suffer even more than it had been shown to in the field trials. "The reality is that farmers will do things that they should not do. Farmland wildlife is at a low ebb. We cannot risk any further reductions," he said.
Daniel Pearce of Scimac, the GM industry body, took the opposite tack, maintaining that big farmers, especially, were responsible and could grow the crops any way that government wanted them to, and did not mind being monitored.
Watching was Paul Rylot, head of bioscience at Bayer. "It doesn't really matter what Britain decides now. GM crops are a global success."
"If activists acted like GM companies, we'd be crucified," said Lord Melchett, appalled by what he had heard during the session.
At the very last, hostilities were happily resumed.
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