14 January 2000

GMpollen gaps slated

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

The independent study, undertaken by the National Pollen Research Unit for the Soil Association warns that pollen from some GM crops can carry far further than previously thought.

Drawing on all previous publications on the subject in what the Soil Association says is the most comprehensive study to date, the report says oilseed rape, sugar beet and maize bring the highest risk of cross-pollination with other varieties of crop or wild relatives.

The authors refer to studies which report that OSR pollen can travel up to 4km, and recorded distribution of sugar beet and maize pollen 800m from source.

Government-approved guidelines drawn up by GM industry body the Supply Chain Initiative on Genetically Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) allow modified rape to be grown 200m from organic crops of the same species, and 50 m from conventional varieties.

Soil Association director Patrick Holden said: "The present SCIMAC guidelines constitute little more than the framework for a licence to pollute."

He said the Soil Associations six-mile notification zone proposals should be accepted immediately as a precondition for licensing all future trial plots.

"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.