DEFRA has set out the minimum separation distances it believes are needed between genetically modified crops and their conventional counterparts to minimise cross-pollination.

The government yesterday (18 July) published a co-existence consultation paper which suggests that anyone wanting to grow a GM crop would have to observe separation distances ranging from 35m to 110m and also notify any neighbouring farmers.

Junior DEFRA minister Ian Pearson stressed no commercial GM crops were expected before 2009, because no crops suitable for the UK had passed EU safety checks.

“But we have a responsibility to be fully prepared if crops which meet the safety criteria are developed and grown here in future,” he said.

“That is why strict separation distances will be enforced so that organic and conventional farmers don’t lose out financially and people can make a choice between GM and non-GM products.”

The consultation document proposes minimum separation distances between GM and non-GM crops of 35m for oilseed rape, 80m for forage maize and 110m for sweetcorn.

The aim is to keep the unavoidable presence of GM material in neighbouring non-GM crops, because of cross pollination, down to 0.3%.

This should mean the EU labelling threshold of 0.9% can be met even if there is further contamination from seed batches or transportation.

But DEFRA is also looking at whether special rules should apply for co-existence between GM and organic crops.

Organisations such as the Soil Association are looking for a maximum contamination level of 0.1%, but the government may look at whether 0.5% is achievable for organic crops.

Other issues raised in the consultation document include whether there should be a public GM crop register, guidance to farmers on voluntary GM-free zones and the options for compensating losses that non-GM farmers might face due to the presence of GM material in their crops.