20 April 2000
‘Destroy GM trials near organic land’

By Donald MacPhail

THE Soil Association is seeking a government pledge to destroy any genetically modified crop-trial site which threatens an organic producers status.

Director Patrick Holden says this will be foremost among the safeguards he is seeking to secure when he presents an action plan to environment minister Michael Meacher on Thursday (20 April).

The association, which has a zero-tolerance policy towards GMs in organic food, could withdraw accreditation from registered organic produce if contamination occurs.

He will also ask Mr Meacher to replace current guidelines from GM-industry body Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) with a new independent advisory committee.

This would be backed with legally binding enforcement procedures.

The Soil Association argues that SCIMAC has given insufficient notification of trial sites and provides inadequate buffer zones to prevent GM pollen drifting onto organic crops.

Mr Holden said: “We are seeking to secure, as a matter of the utmost urgency, the maximum number of safeguards possible in order to limit any contamination to GM-free organic crops.

“Foremost of these is a pledge to destroy any trial plots which threaten the certification status of registered organic producers.”

Mr Holden added: “The sheer scale of this years field scale trial plots substantially increases the risk of contamination to any farmer wishing to grow GM-free crops.”

The association also proposes the establishment of a new farmer-consumer working group within the next few weeks to advise the government on revised procedures for protecting organic crops.

Mr Holden will also call for acceptance of the principle of prior notification.

This would entail full cost recovery for all relevant research in relation to the assessment of pollution risks for affected organic farms.

The Soil Association says there are 41 government sponsored GM farm-scale sites which are situated in close proximity to 46 organic farms and scores of GM-free conventional farms.

It is currently conducting risk assessments which result in the organic status of some crops being removed and subsequent loss of income.

Earlier this year a Soil Association report claimed recommended isolation distances to prevent cross-pollination from genetically modified trial crops were wholly inadequate.

But Dr Roger Turner, SCIMAC chairman, said the issues addressed by the report had already been considered by the governments advisers.

The report seemed to confuse pollen flow and gene flow, for while pollen might travel the distances claimed, it would be unlikely to be viable, he said.