12 June 1998
Farming sets up GM umbrella group

THE industry has reacted after a week of unprecedented attacks on genetic engineering.

Agriculture is to launch an umbrella group – the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops – to co-ordinate the safe, responsible and effective introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops in the UK.

The initiative was announced at the Cereals 98 event near Sleaford, Lincs, on Wednesday, after the destruction of a plot of GM wheat, by a group calling itself the “Lincolnshire Loppers”, at the site the night before.

Earlier in the week, coinciding with the launch of a £1 million advertising campaign by Monsanto, one of the main firms pushing GM technology, Prince Charles publicly denounced genetic engineering. It was something that took mankind into a realm that “belongs to God and God alone”, he said.

Developments, such as producing herbicide resistant plants, were potentially unsafe. “We simply do not know the long-term consequences for human health and the wider environment of releasing plants bred in this way,” the Prince maintained.

Membership of SCIMAC, the new GM umbrella group, includes the NFU, British Society of Plant Breeders, British Agrochemicals Association and supply trade body UKASTA.

Chairman, Roger Turner, said: “From initial seed stock to primary end product SCIMAC is committed to provide open information, practical advice and a focal point for exchange of views on GM crops.”

He added: “We want to demonstrate, well before the first GM crops are grown commercially in the UK, that a co-ordinated framework of information, advice and rigorous control is in place.”

Tony Guthrie, chairman of the British Society of Plant Breeders, pointed out that generic promotional work could follow, although that was unlikely until commercial crops were being grown in the UK.

He branded the anti-GM activists who had damaged the wheat plot at Sleaford as Luddites and anarchists who were not only destroying crops at will but were also intimidating farmers and growers.

“We fear that the technology could be slowed or damaged; it really has got beyond a joke. We cant be ruled by Luddite revolutionaries.”

Supermarkets will be a key target for SCIMAC. “We feel it is very important to be talking to the supermarkets to reassure them about the technology,” said the groups secretary Daniel Pearsall.

  • For this and other stories, see Farmers Weekly, 12-18 June, 1998

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