Environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth is demanding far stricter “co-existence rules” if GM crops are ever grown commercially in the UK, following the publication of responses to a DEFRA consultation.
In the consultation, run in August, September and October last year, DEFRA suggested that up to 0.9% contamination by GM crops should be permissible – the same as applies in EU food labelling law.
It also sought opinions on crop separation distances, a requirement to notify neighbours before planting GMs and how to compensate conventional/organic farmers faced with contamination above 0.9%.
In total there were 11,676 responses to the consultation and, according to FoE, 95% of them were opposed to the suggested co-existence rules.
In particular, these respondents wanted the contamination threshold reduced to just 0.1% and rules to make bio-tech companies pay for any economic damage caused by contamination.
“The government may be willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the biotech industry, but the public is not,” said FoE food campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran.
“Ministers must now go back to the drawing board. They must accept that basing their proposals on unacceptably high levels of GM contamination is fundamentally wrong.”
But junior DEFRA minister Phil Woolas said the government was awaiting the results of more research, due next spring, before finalising its co-existence plans.
“No commercial GM cultivation is expected in England for several years, but it remains our intention to have appropriate co-existence measures in place beforehand,” he said.
DEFRA also played down the significance of the large number of anti-GM responses to its consultation.
About 80% of them were in the form of stock letters, pre-printed forms or petitions drawn up by anti-GM groups, it noted.
“The stock responses did not address directly the questions raised in the consultation paper, and it is not apparent whether the respondents were aware of the questions or even considered them.”