Responses to the Environmental Audit Committee report (5/3/2004)

Before he's even had time to consider this powerful and unanimous all-party parliamentary report, the Minister has rejected it!

"Environment Minister Elliot Morley has rejected calls by a powerful all-party parliamentary panel for more safety testing of genetically modified (GM) crops. (item 2)

1.Greenpeace response
2.Government's response

Greenpeace response to the Environmental Audit Committee report: GM Food - Evaluating the Farm Scale Trials
Friday 5th March 2004

An influential committee of MPs has today announced that the Government should not commercialise GM maize on the basis of the results of the recent Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE). Amidst rumours that Tony Blair has already decided to give GM maize the go-ahead, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) unanimously agreed that the GM maize trials were "unsatisfactory, indeed invalid." They urge the Government to carry out further tests on GM maize, but this time comparing it to less intensive forms of farming like organic.

The report, written by a cross-Party group of MP's, examined the design of the FSEs and recommended that:

*"It would be irresponsible of the Government to permit the commercialisation of GM crops on the basis of one narrow component of the entire evaluation of GM technology."

*"The scope of the trials was very narrow and the results cannot be regarded as adequate grounds for a decision to be taken in favour of commercialisation."

*"The issue of liability be settled before any GM crops are allowed to be commercially grown in the UK."

*"It is vital that the Government permit no commercial planting of GM maize until that crop is thoroughly re-trialled against a non-GM equivalent grown without the use of Atrazine."

*"Problems evident in north America have not been taken seriously enough"

Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe said:

"The EAC have concluded that the GM maize trials were practically worthless. The Government can't try to cook the books on GM maize any more. It's clear that Tony Blair wants to press ahead with GM as soon as he can, but the Government must respond to this report before making any formal decision on commercialising GM maize."

The launch of the EAC report coincides with the publication of a letter by pro-GM scientists at Rothamstead Research in the journal Nature, which claims that GM maize is better for wildlife than non-GM maize that has not been treated with the banned weedkiller Atrazine. The research is based on further analysis of the FSE results and found that the banning of Atrazine means that the benefits to wildlife of GM maize would only be slightly reduced.

In response, Ben Ayliffe added:

"I am amazed the Rothamstead research was published in Nature. It is totally unconvincing."


For more contact Greenpeace on 0207 865 8255 / 07801 212967


The Environmental Audit Committee is a cross-party body with the remit to "consider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development: to audit their performance against such targets as may be set for them by her Majesty's Ministers; and to report thereon to the House."

The FSEs concluded that growing GM maize was likely to cause less damage to farmland wildlife than growing conventional maize. This is because conventional maize is treated with the chemical Atrazine, which is so toxic it's now been banned in Europe.

The key assumption in the Nature letter about farmer's behaviour derives from Greenpeace evidence to ACRE. This points out that the herbicide use on GM maize in the FSEs trials almost certainly aren't relevant. It is totally unconvincing to make assumptions about changes in farmer behaviour for the conventional maize but to ignore actual evidence for changes in GM maize management. The letter "Ban on triazine herbicides likely to reduce but not negate relative benefits of GMHT maize cropping" can be read here:


Minister rejects biotech crops challenge
Fri 5 March, 2004 13:18
By David Cullen

LONDON (Reuters) - Environment Minister Elliot Morley has rejected calls by a powerful all-party parliamentary panel for more safety testing of genetically modified (GM) crops.

"Yes (we have enough research), but I think you'll find that there will be no blanket approval of GM crops," Morley told Reuters just days before the government is expected to make its big decision to approve the commercial growing of biotech maize.

"We've been involved in this decision-making process for the last six years. I don't think anyone will accuse us of rushing a decision," Morley said on Friday.

Leaked minutes from a cabinet committee meeting last month indicated the government was poised to clear biotech maize for commercial planting.

But the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said earlier on Friday doubts remained about the impact of GM crops on the environment and that trials of biotech maize should be restarted.

"The scope of the trials was very narrow and the results cannot be regarded as adequate grounds for a decision to be taken in favour of commercialisation," the committee said of earlier farm-scale crop testing.

Morley said the government would also consider advice given on Thursday by the scientists involved in the 1999-2003 field trials, who stood by their original verdict that GM maize was less damaging to the environment than conventional varieties.

The Agricultural Biotechnology Commission (ABC ), which represents several leading biotech firms, welcomed that news.

"The ABC believes that more than adequate evaluation of these crops has already occurred. The government can move forward with confidence that approved GM crops and foods pose no risk to human health or the environment," the ABC said.

Environment groups backed the calls for more research.

"If the government goes ahead with their commercialisation plans in the face of this damning parliamentary report it will be a black day for British agriculture," said Peter Melchett, policy director of pro-organic food group the Soil Association.

Opponents of biotech crops say too little is known about their potential impact on the environment and human health. GM supporters see benefits through reduced pesticide use and higher yields.

The United States, the world's largest producer of gene crops, has been pressing hard for the 15-nation EU to end an effective five-year ban on GM imports and is also trying to get the World Trade Organisation to declare the moratorium illegal.  

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