13 January 2000
GM rules are inadequate, says report

By Donald MacPhail

RECOMMENDED isolation distances intended to prevent cross-pollination from genetically modified trial crops are wholly inadequate, claims a new report.

The study, undertaken by the National Pollen Research Unit for the Soil Association, warns that some GM pollen carries far beyond current guidelines.

Existing rules mean that GM oilseed rape may be grown within 200m of an organic crops of the same species, and 50m from conventional varieties.

GM sugar beet may be grown 600m from organic beet and 6m from conventional varieties. There are plans for new GM beet sites this year.

The government-approved rules were devised by the Supply Chain Initiative on Genetically Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) which backs GM crops.

But the report says studies have shown that OSR pollen can travel up to 4km (2.4 miles). Pollen from other crops, such as sugar beet and maize, can travel 800m, it adds.

The Soil Association, which withdraws certification from organic crops cross-pollinated by GM pollen, said the report was the most comprehensive ever.

Patrick Holden, Soil Association director, said: “The present SCIMAC guidelines constitutes little more than the framework for a licence to pollute.”

The Soil Associations six-mile (9.6km) notification zone proposals should be accepted immediately as a precondition for licensing all future trial plots, he said.

“Given the fact that conventional crops are just as vulnerable to genetic pollution, we see no reason why this should not be applied.”

Mr Holden called on the government to bring in legally-binding protection as quickly as possible to avoid cross-pollination.

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.

“If cross-pollination were that easy there would be millions of other plant species about,” said Dr Turner.

“It is difficult to make cross-pollination happen as there are mechanisms in the natural world to stop it happening.”

Separation guidelines were based upon internationally recognised distances used in the UK for 35 years without, as far as he knew, being breached.

“These are good, robust guidelines which are as safe for organic crops as they are for other crops.”