23 May 2000
Mowlam admits ‘mistake’ over GM

MO MOWLAM has admitted that the government “may have made a mistake” in its handling of the GM contamination blunder, reports the Daily Mail.

The government was criticised for waiting three weeks before telling the public that up to 600 farmers had unwittingly sown GM crops after a blunder by suppliers.

Cabinet Office minister Dr Mowlam, who has responsibility for GM crops, said that while there may have been a mistake, this was not an attempt to deceive people.

She said the delay was caused by trying to get the maximum facts on the issue first.

The government was only bounced into an admission by an alert from authorities in Sweden.

Critics say an earlier warning could have prevented thousands of acres of GM seed being planted.

Meanwhile, the Daily Express reports that in future the biotech industry could be forced to pay for GM bungles.

Environment minister Michael Meacher wants the question of legal liability for environmental damage by any crop to be sorted out now.

Mr Meacher said compensation claims from farmers affected by this incident were being directed to the company involved in the bungle – Advanta Seeds UK.

The newspaper also claims the minister is considering extending the buffer zones between GM and conventional crops.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that biotech company Novartis is to unveil a new GM technique which it hopes will reduce public concerns.

The Swiss company will launch a method which abandons the controversial use of antibiotic resistance markers.

Based on a naturally derived enzyme, the Positech TM selection technique provides an alternative to antibiotic or herbicide resistant markers.

These “hooks”, which survive treatment from antibiotics and herbicides, currently allow scientists to select genetic traits, reports the FT.

Opponents fear resistance in GM plants could be transferred into the human gut, helping drug-resistant diseases spread.

But some scientists argue this has never been proved.