25 May 1999
NFU against ban on GM crops

By FWi staff

FARMERS who want the National Farmers Union (NFU) to debate whether genetically modified (GM) crops should be banned have had their hopes dashed.

Grassroots union members had called for next years NFU annual general meeting to debate whether they should continue to support the introduction of GM crops.

But NFU president Ben Gill has ruled out a discussion in one of the clearest indications so far that the union hierarchy is firmly in favour of GM technology.

Mr Gills views are revealed in a leaked letter sent to Farmers Weekly, which confirms that the NFU is working closely with the biotechnology industry.

“I would suggest that it would not be a sensible use of the NFU 2000 AGM to debate whether or not GM crops should be banned,” he writes.

“Many GM crops have already passed all their approval stages in the EU and some are already being grown.”

New GM varieties are being developed for food and industrial use and the area under GM crops is rising swiftly across the world, Mr Gill continues.

“If EU consumers and customers was only GM-free crop products our members will be well pleased to supply them whether or not there is a ban,” he writes.

“If they do not, we will have caused substantial damage to our own members who will see their markets undermined by imports.”

NFU officials have taken expenses-paid trips to the USA to discuss the promotion of GM crops courtesy of the biotechnology giant Monsanto, the letter reveals.

The NFU has its own seat on the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops, the industry-backed body hoping to oversee the introduction of GM crops.

Other farmers organisations claim that a better informed public debate should take place before GM crops are grown.

A debate on the pros and cons on biotechnology would benefit farmers as well as consumers, according to the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS).

“So far the discussion… has been needlessly clouded by emotive language,” said Peter Stewart, NFUS vice-president.

“Claims made by both sides seem to be unsupported by clear evidence.”

Mr Stewart said that Scottish farmers wanted to supply consumers with the food they want, whether or not that includes GM crops.

“The final assessment of whether GM crops are safe to consume, and to to grow, must be left to the scientists,” he said.