THE PUBLIC consultation on GM coexistence measures in England may be launched in July, junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley has said.

“The consultation documents should be ready before the summer recess [July 22], and I hope the consultation can commence before recess starts,” Mr Morley told the environment, farming and rural affairs select committee on Monday (May 24).

It will be a three-month consultation covering such issues as the separation distances needed to minimise cross-pollination between GM and non-GM crops and the shape of the liability regime required to deal both with environmental damage and economic loss for non-GM farmers whose crops have been contaminated.

On the relationship between separation distances and labelling threshold levels, Mr Morley said EU regulations did not allow coexistence measures to go beyond what is necessary to avoid adventitious GM presence above the 0.9% threshold.

“It is possible for us to set a lower threshold for organic farms, but under current EU regulations, that would have to be a voluntary arrangement.”

He said the wish from many organic farmers to have a statutory threshold of 0.1% is difficult to square with the standards of imported organic products.

“The dilemma for the organic sector is that the bulk of organic produce in this country is imported and produced to the 0.9% threshold. I would very much doubt any claims that all imported organic products meet the 0.1% threshold,” Mr Morley said.

But he added that he was not averse to arguing for a lower statutory level for organic products in the whole of the EU.

On the topic of GM-free zones, Mr Morley stressed that any such regional arrangement would have to be based on a voluntary agreement among farmers to co-operate.

“I‘m all for co-operation. There should be more of it in UK agriculture.”

But he added that it took only one farmer to ruin any regional aspirations to be GM free and in his experience there would always be that “odd one awkward farmer” who would refuse to co-operate with his or her neighbours.

Mr Morley told the committee that there should now be plenty of time to have all legal arrangements in place before commercial growing of GM crops happens.

Realistically, commercial growing of GM crops is unlikely to happen in the UK before 2007 or 2008, Mr Morley said.