Path is clearing for GM crop expansion in UK
Genetically modified crops
promise much. But while
producers overseas reap
their benefits, they are slow
to arrive on EU farms. In this
special focus we review
some of the key issues,
starting here with a report
from the first of a series of
Edited by Charles Abel
IS the tide finally turning on the introduction of GM crops into the UK? According to backers of the industrys Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops it certainly is.
When environment minister Michael Meacher endorsed the activities of SCIMAC in November, he effectively made it the industrys self-regulator, removing a key obstacle to the technologys arrival on UK farms, they say.
Indeed, government support for SCIMACs approach avoided a moratorium on the introduction of GM varieties, claimed David Carmichael, a Lincs farmer and one of SCIMACs two NFU representatives.
Plans are for the first commercial herbicide tolerant GM spring rape to be planted in 2000. But that will not trigger an explosive take-off of GM plantings. "In initial years production will be limited to agreed volumes of seed," Dr Carmichael explained.
"We expect there to be a small area initially and for this to grow gradually, giving us time to address any environmental issues arising from the increase in production," added Monsantos Colin Merritt.
The government has given the group until Christmas to flesh out its proposals for self-regulation. At their heart is a system of rigorous contracts, audits and penalties to ensure guidelines are met.
"Compliance is very important. Anybody can introduce guidelines, what counts is whether they are adhered to," said Dr Carmichael.
GM crops will only be grown under inter-professional agreements, similar to those for seed. Formal inspections will ensure guidelines are met, with the whole process independently audited and reviewed. Auditors are being sought.
"Penalties for non-compliance will include withdrawal of further access to GM crops. In other words, if you foul up you cant grow the seed in future," Dr Carmichael said.
That does not constitute restrictive practice. "The contract is with the seed supplier, who can refuse to offer a further contract if the terms are breached." Blacklisting of non-compliant producers is not ruled out.
A parallel programme of farm-scale ecological monitoring trials comparing GM and non-GM varieties is planned with DETR, MAFF, English Nature and the RSPB. The first field-scale trial crops of spring rape, maize and some sugar beet will be planted around the UK next spring.
"SCIMAC represents a genuine alternative to the starting-gun approach to commercial introduction of new technology. There will be no flood of the stuff. It will be introduced slowly to ensure consumer confidence and acceptance." Dr Carmichael concluded.
GM CROPS TODAY
• 34m hectares grown worldwide in 1998.
• Mainly in the US, Canada, Argentina, China and Australia.
• Insect resistant maize, cotton, OSR and potatoes.
• Herbicide tolerant soybean, osr, cotton, maize.
• Virus resistant tomato, tobacco.
• Modified ripening tomato.
• Modified oil quality in OSR.
• EU – herbicide tolerant OSR + insect resistant maize approved – 30,000ha production in France and Spain 98. GM hybrid OSR, modified starch potato, herbicide tolerant maize, modified flower colour and vase life in carnation – awaiting approval.
• 2000 – GM herbicide tolerant spring + winter rape possible in the UK.
• 2001 – GMHT sugar beet?
• 2002 – GMHT fodder maize?
• Operator training/competence.
• Adviser/supplier qualifications.
• On-farm monitoring/record-keeping.
• Crop planning and rotational advice, including minimum separation distances as for seed crops.
• Crop planting guidelines.
• Crop management guidelines.
• Harvesting guidelines.
• Post-harvest management guidelines.
• System auditing.
GM CROPS TOMORROW
• Robust pest and disease resistance.
• High yielding hybrids.
• Modified oil, starch and protein quality and content.
• Reduced seed shedding.
• Altered plant architecture – esp height.
• Altered ripening, storage quality and sprouting.
• On/off switch for characters
• Tolerance to drought, cold, heat.
• Vaccines and pharmaceuticals.
• Toxin removal from soils.
• N-fixing cereals – 20+ years away.