29, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- The Observer, 09/28/03:
A key GM crop developer, Bayer, has decided to halt
UK trials of genetically modified plants. The move is
seen as a major blow to the industry. Bayer was the
last company carrying out GM trials in the UK, though
it said yesterday it hoped to start up again soon when
conditions were 'more favorable'.
The company blamed Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett
for its decision. Her insistence that the locations
of all trial sites be made public had forced its hand,
a spokesman told The Observer.
Until last week, Bayer CropScience, Bayer's crop subsidiary,
believed it was close to a deal that would allow GM
crop test sites - which are regularly destroyed by protesters
- to be kept secret. Instead of having to publish exact
map references for fields, companies would only have
to name the county in which it was holding a trial.
The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment
had said this vaguer notification was 'acceptable in
terms of risk assessment', while the police have always
complained that explicit disclosure of test site locations
has been a major factor in aiding 'crop-trashers'. But
at the last minute the Department of Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs (Defra) told Bayer it would not support
this change in regulations.
'In the absence of any moves to ensure the security
for trials, Bayer CropScience has no choice, therefore,
but to cease its variety trial activities in the UK
for this coming season,' said the official. 'It is disappointing
the criminal activities of a small minority of people
have prevented information on GM crop varieties being
Most GM crop trials carried out over the past few years
have been sabotaged, not only those of Bayer. Other
companies have pulled out. Now Bayer, the last to continue
with them, has decided to call it a day. The current
'brain drain' of UK agricultural scientists to the US
and Canada is now only likely to intensify.
The fact that companies also specifically blame Beckett
for this latest blow is particularly intriguing. Last
week, a letter from Beckett to her fellow Ministers
said Britain should back EU laws that ban all GM-free
zones, a move that would give the go-ahead to the commercial
growing of GM crops here.
But as long as test GM trials are exposed to sabotage,
the prospects of commercial growing look remote. 'This
is a back-door moratorium,' said an industry source.