23 April 1999

Voluntary code of practice for GMcrops on table

By Johann Tasker

CONTROVERSIAL proposals for a voluntary code to regulate the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops are being considered by the government.

The code of practice has been devised by SCIMAC, the pro-GM industry body involving organisations including the NFU, supply trade body UKASTA and various biotechnology firms.

The government Cabinet Committee on Biotechnology, chaired by former farm minister Jack Cunningham, was due to consider the code as FARMERS WEEKLY went to press (Wed).

It is understood that the proposals would allow farmers organisations and the biotechnology industry to monitor the environmental effects of GM crops.

Farmers hoping to grow GM crops would have to sign an "inter-party" contract with merchants and the company that supplied the seeds. It would set out the safety standards that farmers must reach and would stipulate the need to take advice from agronomists on how to grow the crops.

Friends of the Earth (FoE), which is opposed in principle to a voluntary code of practice, said the proposals were "feeble, unworkable and unenforceable".

The voluntary approach took no account of farm biodiversity or evidence that GM crops could cross-breed with wild plants, said Adrian Bebb, FoE spokesman.

Mr Bebb said the safety barriers proposed by the code to prevent contamination of non-GM crops were inadequate.

He also voiced concern that organic farmers would not be legally protected if their organic crops were cross-pollination by nearby GM varieties.

"If the government endorses this code then the lawyers will have a field day sorting out the disputes that will inevitably arise between farmers," said Mr Bebb. "Farmers should steer clear of GM crops until these issues have been resolved."

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker said that the government must approve the industrys plans before commercial GM crop growing could begin. A voluntary code was needed because there was no parliamentary time to make it law, he told Radio 4s Today programme on Wednesday.