28 May 1999

GMcode given official okay…

By Jonathan Riley

THE government has formally approved a code of conduct for the use of genetically modified crops that is backed by farmer contracts and a penalty point system to punish errant growers.

The code, drawn up by the GM promotion body the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC), was endorsed by Cabinet Office minister Jack Cunningham last week.

He added that, in the long-term, the voluntary guidelines could form the basis of legislation.

Bob Fiddaman, the NFU representative on SCIMAC, said contracts would apply to breeders, merchants and growers and would have to be signed before commercial growing went ahead.

Growers who failed to adhere to the code of conduct would be penalised, he added.

Mr Fiddaman said the codes meant that farmers hoping to grow GM crops must first notify neighbours in writing of their intentions, well in advance of planting, and all parties must reach agreement – either amicably or in the courts.

"If growers do not keep to this, for example, then they could be punished with three, six, nine or 12 points. The maximum penalty will ban the farmer from growing GM crops," he said.

Detailed paperwork will also feature strongly. Records must be kept and maintained for at least seven years, and be available at all times for inspection by auditors.

A diary of crop management must be maintained, with sketch mapping of where and when volunteer plants occur.

The code concedes that volunteers could harbour multiple herbicide tolerances from successive cross pollination between other varieties and it advises an integrated weed control programme to limit the effects.

It also sets out the separation distances between non-GM and conventional crops. While a 6m gap must exist between beet crops and GM maize, a 50m separation is required to keep GM rape from conventional varieties.

Distances between GM varieties and organic crops have to be greater – 600m for beet and 200m for all other crops.

But Soil Association director Patrick Holden said: "The distances dont go far enough to protect organic farmers. We need a six mile radius around these crops."

And he added: "What about conventional farmers with non-GM crops – the distances leave them wide open to contamination. They have no protection and will lose contracts with retailers wanting to source non-GM ingredients."