March 9, 2004 -- CropChoice news: Alex Kirby, BBC News: After
five years of consultations and tests, UK ministers
announced the fateful decision to allow GM crops to
be grown commercially in Britain.
The agreement will allow the commercial growing of
one variety of GM maize in England.
The announcement has triggered vehement protest from
anti-GM campaigners, and relief from the biotechnology
But legal challenges and unanswered scientific questions
mean crops are unlikely to be planted before 2005.
Agreement by all
The logical next step is that the variety concerned,
Chardon LL, will be placed on the UK Seed List (the
national list of varieties).
Chardon LL is a type of fodder maize and it appeared
to outperform conventional maize in the evaluations
by allowing more wildlife to survive, although the result
But before any variety can be placed on the list, the
devolved authorities in Scotland and Wales must agree
with the UK government in Westminster that this should
Neither is yet certain to give their agreement: the
Welsh Assembly voted unanimously in 2000 to keep Wales
The Soil Association, which has fought GM crops from
the beginning, said it was fearful that if something
went wrong, perhaps in 10 to 15 years, it would be "impossible
Former environment minister Michael Meacher said the
crops were "the wrong decision" because the
science did not support it, the public was against it
and it was driven by commercial interests rather than
public interest for caution.
"There has been very little environmental testing,
nothing about soil residue, nothing about gene flow
from cross-pollination, nothing about the development
of super weeds...and above all, there has been virtually
no health testing of the impact of eating GM food on
human beings," he told BBC Radio 4's Today program.
Bob Fiddaman, spokesman for Scimac, a grouping of industry
organizations that support GM crops, said the technology
did not carry risk.
"Never has a form of technology been so tested
and checked by scientists before it has been allowed
to be fully developed," he told Today.
"There is nothing wrong per se with genetic technology
because you're only moving genes within species."
As well as seeking agreement from Scotland and Wales,
the government will also need to seek the approval of
the Pesticides Safety Directorate for the chemical -
glufosinate ammonium, marketed as Liberty - to be sprayed
on the GM maize.
It may well say commercial crops must be grown in the
same way as the trial GM maize used in the evaluations.
Two key contentious areas are co-existence (whether
GM crops can be planted close to conventional or organic
ones without contaminating them) and liability - who
pays if something goes wrong.
Ministers want the industry to accept responsibility,
but the biotechnology companies are strongly opposed
to the idea.
The probable result will be a government consultation
stretching out over the spring and summer.
One possibility would see the announcement by the government
of voluntary GM-free zones, though the technology's
opponents say they would be unacceptable because they
would be unenforceable.
If Scotland and Wales do agree to support a decision
to let the maize be grown, that will not necessarily
be the end of the government's problems.
It will have to advertise its intention to place Chardon
LL on the seed list, and at this point it will be open
to objectors to appeal against the decision. That could
mean a hearing before a tribunal which could last for
Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, told BBC News
Online: "We would certainly appeal. This is a spring-sown
crop, and the earliest possible date the maize could
be planted is in early 2005."
None of this addresses the serious concerns many people
feel about the farm-sized tests themselves.
Three days ago the House of Commons Environmental Audit
Committee said approving GM commercialization on the
basis of the evaluations would be "irresponsible".