4 December 1998

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

NIAB conferences.

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.


&#8226 34m hectares grown worldwide in 1998.

&#8226 Mainly in the US, Canada, Argentina, China and Australia.

&#8226 Insect resistant maize, cotton, OSR and potatoes.

&#8226 Herbicide tolerant soybean, osr, cotton, maize.

&#8226 Virus resistant tomato, tobacco.

&#8226 Modified ripening tomato.

&#8226 Modified oil quality in OSR.

&#8226 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.

&#8226 2000 – GM herbicide tolerant spring + winter rape possible in the UK.

&#8226 2001 – GMHT sugar beet?

&#8226 2002 – GMHT fodder maize?


&#8226 Operator training/competence.

&#8226 Adviser/supplier qualifications.

&#8226 On-farm monitoring/record-keeping.

&#8226 Crop planning and rotational advice, including minimum separation distances as for seed crops.

&#8226 Crop planting guidelines.

&#8226 Crop management guidelines.

&#8226 Harvesting guidelines.

&#8226 Post-harvest management guidelines.

&#8226 System auditing.


&#8226 Robust pest and disease resistance.

&#8226 High yielding hybrids.

&#8226 Modified oil, starch and protein quality and content.

&#8226 Reduced seed shedding.

&#8226 Altered plant architecture – esp height.

&#8226 Altered ripening, storage quality and sprouting.

&#8226 On/off switch for characters

&#8226 Tolerance to drought, cold, heat.

&#8226 Vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

&#8226 Toxin removal from soils.

&#8226 N-fixing cereals – 20+ years away.