29 March 2002

Wider separation distances will stop cross-pollination

By Tom Allen-Stevens

SEPARATION distances between certain genetically modified and conventional crops may not be adequate to prevent cross-pollination, a report commissioned by the European parliament has warned.

Industry guidelines state that a non-GM hybrid crop should be no closer than 100m from a GM crop.

But the report, published by the European Science Foundation, suggests separation distances be increased up to 400m after recent research showed that cross-pollination in hybrid rape crops could occur over greater distances than previously thought.

Cross-pollination occurrs at a rate of 5% between non-GM hybrid crops and similar modified crops at distances of 80m, according to the report.

This is 50 times more than the cross-pollination that occurs with a conventional variety and five times the governments guideline tolerance of 1%, said Jeremy Sweet, the reports author and head of environmental research for NIAB.

"Its clear that the isolation distances laid down by industry guidelines would not be appropriate for hybrid crops and those with low self-fertility. We think distances of 200-400m would be sufficient [to counter this] but extra research is needed."

Dr Sweet did not think full commercialisation of these GM crops – which could be as early as 2003 – should be blocked, but the Soil Association, said the report confirmed what organic farmers had been saying for years.

"Supermarkets are testing their non-GM food to a tolerance of 0.01%, which will happen over separation distances of more than 4km," said association policy director Peter Melchett. "These distances make any commercialisation an impracticality." The association has a zero GM tolerance policy.

Colin Merritt, Monsantos biotechnology development manager, said the only implication of the report was in terms of seed production for hybrid rape. "Theres no sense in putting out a call to extend the moratorium on just one small aspect of the science." &#42

Seeds of doubt… Questions are being raised over separation distances.