10 September 2001
Farm-scale GM trials ‘ not enough’

By FWi staff

FARM-SCALE trials of genetically modified crops will not provide enough information for a decision to be made about whether they should be grown commercially.

The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission – a body which advises the government on GM issues – has claimed that information from other sources will need to be considered.

The report Crops on Trial, published on Monday (10 September), says that ethical concerns as well as strategic and economic issues must be factored in.

It says while farm-scale evaluations (FSEs) will offer valuable data, the results should not be the basis of a decision for commercialisation.

“They cannot be, as widely interpreted, the final piece in the jigsaw before commercialisation can proceed,” it says.

“Additional information, and consideration of a wide range of viewpoints, must be factors in the eventual decision.”

Ministers and officials come in for criticism for fostering the impression that the decision on commercialisation will be made solely on the results of the trials.

The report says statements by the government such as “there will be no commercial growing of GM crops until the FSEs are completed” have been too decisive.

“Given the precise and highly circumscribed scope of the trials, such statements seem likely to have created serious misunderstandings.”

The impasse between the organic sector and SCIMAC, the body set up to oversee the commercialisation of GM crops, is highlighted as another problem area by the report.

It says that communication between the two has broken down and this has served the nations interests badly.

It suggests that separation distances between GM and organic crops should be increased to ensure the trials have no adverse effect on organic farming.

Such a move would allow confidence and trust to develop between SCIMAC and leaders of the organic and non-GM sectors, it argues.

Malcolm Grant, AEBC chairman, said the report brought together the views of people, both for and against biotechnology, with the aim of generating a public debate.

It aimed to set out practical steps government should take before reaching a decision.

“These decisions should be within a framework that extends to broader strategic questions about GM technology,” he said.