16 May 2001
RSPB threat to quit GM advisors

By FWi staff

A LEADING conservation group has vowed to quit a panel advising ministers on genetically modified crops unless a controversial trial site is scrapped.

The RSPB says it will resign from the Scientific Steering Committee (SCC) if a trial of herbicide-tolerant GM maize proceeds at Wolston in Warwickshire.

The site is only two miles from the Ryton Organic Gardens research centre, leading to fears that the GM maize could cross-pollinate with organic crops.

Trial organisers, pro-GM industry group the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC), have “bungled” the issue, says the RSPB.

“To plant this crop is to seek a direct conflict with organic farmers,” said RSPB conservation director Mark Avery.

“That just isnt sensible as it will undermine the public credibility of this research,” he claimed.

“The buck has to stop somewhere and it stops with SCIMAC,” insisted Dr Avery.

But in a statement SCIMAC defended the trial, insisting there was no legal or scientific basis under which Rytons organic status was threatened.

Independent scientific advice to the Department of the Environment confirmed that the risk of cross-pollination at 3km was likely to be zero, it said.

It claimed that this distance was beyond the self-imposed exclusion zone set by organic regulator The Soil Association.

Earlier this month, environment minister Michael Meacher said the site should be moved, despite assurances from his department that there was no risk.

Mr Meacher wrote to the SSC asking if it would consider withdrawing the site from this years FSE programme.

But in a response released on Wednesday (16 May) SSC chairman Chris Pollock said it not within the SSCs remit to consider withdrawing individual sites.

Assessment of pollen flow and herbicide issues lay with the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment and the Pesticides Safety Directorate.

These two bodies have already advised DETR that the risks from these components of the experiment are acceptably low, said Prof Pollock.

Conservation agency English Nature, which sits on the SSC, said it agreed with the Minister that GM crops should not jeopardise organic farming.

English Nature Chairman Martin Doughty said on Wednesday that the agency advocated the precautionary principle towards GM trials.

“We expect those responsible for deciding on the location of trial sites to take full account of this,” he said.

FREE NEWS UPDATE
CLICK HERE to receive FWis FREE new daily email newsletter to keep up-to-date with the latest on election news, foot-and-mouth and other farming-related stories

Farm e-Business Survey. Click here to enter and win 100 Amazon vouchers