16 August 2002

GM regulations might see seed prices rocket

By Charles Abel

SEED costs could rocket and advanced plant breeding techniques move out of Europe if stringent new laws on the permitted level of GM contamination in arable crops are implemented.

EU legislation due to be voted on next month could make a breeder liable if its seed produced a non-GM crop containing any unapproved GM traits or more than 1% of an approved trait.

While that may seem to protect grower interests, breeders would have to build in a huge level of tolerance to ensure limits are not exceeded, says Roger Turner, chief executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders.

The extra cost, estimated at £70m a year across Europe, would hit the development of new varieties and add to conventional seed costs. "It would have a deep impact on new varieties for Europe and Britain.

"These proposals are based on politics rather than common sense or sound science. The levels of tolerance are even more strict than those for mycotoxins or cyanide."

Some concessions have been made, including the removal of extra separation distances for seed crops. But the proposed rules remain impractical and ill thought out, the BSPB insists.

Given the risk of inadvertent contamination and GM pollen transfer the regulations would prompt a wholesale movement of GM plant breeding out of Europe, Mr Turner adds. "No breeder will be prepared to carry out any GM research here – it will all be exported to the US."

But he doubts whether the US will tolerate the proposed changes at forthcoming World Trade Organisation talks. "Just think of the huge amount of money that would be spent on testing food crops, both home-grown and imported."

UK consultation on the issue ends on Sept 12 with an EU vote expected later that month. See www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/approvedgmos for details. &#42