14 February 1997

Tightening-up calls

to GMO monitoring

CALLS for MAFF to improve its monitoring of possible long-term effects of the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment have been made by farmers.

The NFUs biotechnology working party said that while it was happy with testing and licensing procedures, it was unhappy with the post-monitoring release work.

Union members are also unhappy with animal feed firms which are mixing GM soya with conventionally-grown soya, claiming a public backlash would affect the farming community.

Ben Boot, chairman of the NFUs biotechnology working party, said the union was concerned about a lack of environmental monitoring once the GM product was passed by the govern- ments advisory committees.

Mr Boot was also unhappy with the use of the antibiotic resistant marker-gene in Ciba-Geigys GM maize product, claiming it was technically unnecessary and undesirable.

Government claims it is carrying out detailed risk assessment studies of genetically modified crops at its Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Furzebrook, Dorset.

Director, Alan Gray, said current research in Dorset and Huntingdon included studies of how genes moved between crops and their wild relatives.

The results were being used to assess the risks and impacts, if any, of gene transfers from genetically modified pest or herbicide resistant crops, such as oilseed rape and its wild cabbage relatives, and the danger of the creation of superweeds in the environment.

Prof Gray said the research complemented work being carried out in France, the Netherlands and Denmark on weed beet, carrot and turnip hybridisation.

Responding to questions in the Commons, junior farm minister, Angela Browning, said she was happy with the analysis carried out by the advisory committee on novel foods and processes. But the government was open to implement changes, after a meeting last month with environmentalists, consumer groups and food producers.n