28 May 1999

Unionofficials let Monsanto pay for trip to US seminar

By Robert Davies

TWO members of the NFUs cereals committee accepted free trips to the USA, courtesy of the biotechnology giant Monsanto, it emerged this week.

Richard Butler, committee chairman, and committee member Peter Limb, who is also chairman of the Home-Grown Cereals Auth-oritys research and development committee, attended a Monsanto wheat seminar in December. They then held discussions with representatives from the company about genetically modified crops.

Archie Montgomery, chairman of the NFUs biotechnology monitoring group, has also visited Monsanto as a guest of the US government.

Replying to a letter from a concerned union member, obtained by farmers weekly, Ben Gill, NFU president, said he believed the need to understand developments in competing countries, and the opportunity for direct UK/EU farmer contact and discussion, made the decision to accept the Monsanto invitations the right one.

"Monsanto has a substantial traditional and GM crop breeding programme as well as being involved with the development of new seed dressings. All of these issues are of interest to UK growers," Mr Gill wrote.

"Even if we did not grow GM crops in this country, we cant ignore a development which had already led to a greater area of GM crops being sold world-wide than the total, let alone cropped, area of the UK."

He also rejected a call for a vote to be taken at the NFU annual meeting on whether GMs should be supported or banned.

But, apparently acknowledging that members might vote for a ban, Mr Gill said: "If EU consumers and customers want only GM-free crop products our members will be well pleased to supply them whether or not there is a ban. If they do not, we will have caused substantial damage to our own members who will see their markets undermined by imports."

Mr Limb insisted that the US trip had not been a brainwashing exercise. "There was never anything underhand. It really was a fact-finding mission," he said.

The Farmers Union of Wales wants a ban on the planting of trial GM crops until there is irrefutable scientific evidence that they are completely safe. And the Scottish NFU has highlighted the need for a better informed public debate on the pros and cons of GMs. &#42