2 April 1999

Green lobby is stung by government GM stance

By Isabel Davies

THE government has angered environmentalists by backing a House of Lords committee report which concluded that the potential benefits of genetically modified crops outweighed the potential risks.

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker said government backed a number of the key recommendations in the report and praised it as a "balanced and considered perspective on the key issues".

"In particular, the government supports recommendations to tighten the EUs regulatory framework and strengthen the risk assessment provisions," said Mr Rooker.

The government claims this will provide a stable climate for the introduction of biotechnology techniques while keeping safety to human health and the environment to the fore.

When the Lords report was published in January, Monsanto welcomed it for helping "distinguish fact from fiction".

But environmentalists have criticised the governments stance, claiming it demonstrates the concerns of the general public are still not being addressed.

"The government doesnt even seem to recognise there is a choice here," said Doug Parr of environmental campaigners Greenpeace. "By focusing on issues such as improving the regulatory process it seems that it has accepted that we are heading towards genetic modification," said Dr Parr.

And organic farmers have responded angrily to the reports suggestion that they will have to compromise their views over the introduction of GM crops in the UK.

The government believes that although the organic sector may consider modified crops have no part to play in its farming system, it must agree to rules that allow organic farming and genetic modification to co-exist.

This will involve agreeing to minimum separation distances between GM and non-GM crops and consultations with neighbouring farms where appropriate, the report stated.

But Soil Association director Patrick Holden said such recommendations were unworkable. "Pollen transmission means that it will be virtually impossible to protect the rights of farmers wanting to grow either organic or non-GM crops," he said.