27 March 1998

NFUsays keep eye on GM crops over 10 years

By Shelley Wright

INDEPENDENT post-release monitoring of genetically modified crops should be done for 10 years after each variety is commercially grown in the UK for the first time, according to the NFU.

In an updated report from the unions biotechnology working group, chaired by Shropshire dairy farmer Ben Boot, the potential benefits farmers might reap from biotechnology are highlighted.

The emerging technology will, the group believes, provide additional opportunities to help farmers improve the efficiency of production.

While it will not solve all problems, biotechnology can play an important and innovative role in maintaining the competitiveness of UK agriculture and horticulture, the report adds.

The group conclude that the recognised risks of introducing biotechnology on farms are considered by most observers to be low.

Some concerns

"However, there are some concerns," the report says, listing the use of antibiotic resistant marker genes in some genetically modified crops, and possible transfer of herbicide resistance from GM plants to weeds, that would then be difficult to control, as examples.

Although releases of GM varieties, whether for trial or for future commercial sale, have to be authorised by the Secretary of State for the environment, the NFU believes that the "regulatory controls do not take sufficient account of all the potential environmental post-release hazards and their implications when genetically modified plants are grown on a commercial scale".

Impossible to predict

The report says: "In general, it can be said that scientists do not have a complete understanding of natural ecosystems. It is therefore impossible to predict accurately the effects of large scale releases of genetically modified organisms."

The union is concerned that there is currently no requirement for monitoring environmental change after consent to market a GM crop has been granted.

"The government should, therefore, be proactive in setting up a process of post-release monitoring of newly approved commercial growing of GM plants," the group says.

Monitoring should be independent, should be paid for by government, and should be either directed by government or under government contract. It should be done for 10 years, with the monitors given the power to withdraw approval for a crop immediately if any severe environmental changes are seen. &#42