31 July 1998

GMcropping guidelines wanted?Ask SCIMAC…

By Charles Abel

GUIDELINES to help growers manage genetically modified crops are expected soon from newly formed umbrella group SCIMAC – Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops.

Pronounced like a coat you might wear to go skiing, the group was launched at Cereals 98 in June. Support since then has been overwhelming, says chairman, Roger Turner.

"We have had a terrifically positive response from individual farmers pleased to see the industry fighting back, supermarket chains, research groups, colleges and even embassies."

The group includes representatives from the British Society of Plant Breeders, NFU, British Agrochemicals Association and supply trade body UKASTA.

It has four key goals: To act as a focal point for discussion, provide codes of practice, develop detailed technical guidelines and run a fact-based information campaign to stimulate an informed debate.

"We are consulting with both the pro- and anti-GM crop views, listening to concerns and taking collective action to respond," says Mr Turner.

He believes the creation of an umbrella group will help some of the more radical anti-GM campaigners enter discussions. "It means they can talk to us, without being seen to be talking to the companies developing the technology."

Detailed technical guidelines to help growers manage GM crops are well advanced.

"There is a need for reassurance that these crops can be grown with normal management practices. Practical management guides on rotation and herbicide use are needed, to avoid anything silly happening, like using the same herbicide tolerance in two consecutive years," Mr Turner notes.

"We are hopeful that the government will come back with its review of GM herbicide tolerant crops soon and we would hope to get guidelines out pretty soon after that."

Mr Turner believes the governments pronouncement on GM herbicide tolerant crops could be a key turning point for the technology. "It will provide a real focus which could change the whole attitude to GM crops."

The guidelines will address specific crops – fodder beet, rape, maize and sugar beet – considering rotations, herbicide use, volunteer management, disposal of crop residues and soil management to minimise seed return.

Crop guidelines will be available at the point of sale and helplines will also be set up, both by SCIMAC and the companies marketing the technology, Mr Turner adds.

SCIMAC will also produce and update codes of practise for the farming end of the food chain. One such code addressing labelling and segregation of GM seed and produce was published last year. "We need to review and update that, the technology is moving so fast we do not want to be overtaken by events," stresses Mr Turner.

A fact-based information campaign is also planned. "This will not be a high budget advertising campaign, that is something for the individual companies with the technology. What we will be doing is providing evidence of the technical merits and demonstrating the regulatory process and the monitoring it requires.

"It is important to put the technology in perspective, looking at the benefits not just of insect resistance and herbicide tolerance, but high lauric acid rape and other quality traits, too. These will be benefits to society and we dont hear about those nearly as much as the downsides."

Mr Turner is keen to have information available before the technology is on farm. "Just what that timetable will be is a little unclear. GM spring rapes could be available in spring 1999 and winter rape in the autumn, so we do have time to get this in place."

Interestingly, the US has not needed a SCIMAC-type organisation, Mr Turner notes. "The FDA is seen as trustworthy and respectable. If they say something is safe they are believed."

SCIMAC

&#8226 Members – BSPB, NFU, BAA, UKASTA.

&#8226 Goals – focus for consultation, codes of practise for supply trade, technical guidelines, fact-based information campaign.

&#8226 Unique in Europe and world.

&#8226 Government report on GM herbicide tolerant crops expected soon – could provide turning point for technology?

&#8226 Possible model for other countries.