15 May 1998

Neighbour calls for ban on GMsweetcorn trial

By John Burns

SOLICITORS acting for a Devon organic sweetcorn grower have called on environment minister Michael Meacher to prevent a MAFF/NIAB genetically modified maize trial from going ahead on a neighbouring field.

Guy Watson of Riverside Farm, Totnes, fears pollen from the GM maize could reach his sweetcorn crop which would then lose its organic status because the standards of the organic promotion body, the Soil Association, do not permit GMs to be used.

Mr Watson has now chosen to step up his fight, first featured in News, Apr 24, by involving solicitors.

In a letter to Mr Meacher his solicitor argues that guidelines for the regulatory process – through which consent was given to plant the GM maize – were not correctly followed. The solicitor alleges that when permission for the trial was granted, no consideration was given to the effects on organic farmers, even though the guidelines insist that the effects of cross-pollination between GM maize and non-GM maize must be considered.

The solicitors have also asked NIAB and the seed company Sharpes International (which entered the maize for trials) not to sow the seeds.

Mr Meacher had not replied when FW went to press, but MAFF had responded to the letter to NIAB. MAFF stated that all necessary procedures were followed and MAFF had obligations to proceed with applications which had been submitted to it. But MAFF did promise to keep the matter under close review and had instructed NIAB accordingly. No cross-pollination was likely before June 30 and even then it was unlikely, the letter said.

The Soil Association has stated that it would have no alternative but to withdraw its symbol from Mr Watsons sweetcorn if there was evidence of cross-pollination from the GM maize trial plots. It would be a precedent decision and would be taken very seriously. There were tests to check for the GM genes. There were already two other organic farmers facing potential financial losses because of nearby GM trials, and with over 300 such trials around the country the SA claimed it was inevitable that more cases would arise.