Tenant farmers have been warned to check their tenancy agreements do not forbid them growing GM crops in the future, after environment secretary Owen Paterson voiced his support for the technology.
Currently, farmers in the UK are not allowed to grow GM crops commercially, although imported GM commodities, especially soya, are being used for animal feed.
However, the majority of new tenancy agreements contain clauses stating GM crops should not be grown on the land, according to tenancy specialist Philip Meade at Davis Meade Property Consultants.
“For a number of years now I have been concerned about these clauses and I have been urging clients to be wary of signing them,” said Mr Meade.
Tenants can negotiate with landlords to have this condition changed, he said, as while it doesn’t affect tenants now, if GM rules change it may prohibit them in coming years.
“When acting for tenants faced with such a clause I usually suggest that the tenancy should be changed to say that if GM crops become more generally acceptable in the UK then that clause can be relaxed,” he added.
The worry for tenants is that it could create a two-tier farming regime – those who grow GM crops and those who don’t, Mr Meade said. Some landlords may continue to ban them whatever the national feeling.
Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn said a number of landlords, such as the National Trust, use them as a matter of policy.
“These clauses are shortsighted and limiting and tenants should seek to have them removed where possible.”
But it was important to weigh up how important these clauses were and whether tenants thought they really posed a significant problem for them, he added.
Mr Meade added the potential for lower rental values for non-GM land could however see landlords changing their mind.
“A landlord may have particular ethics over genetically modified crops but he may put his ethics to the side if his rents are affected,” he said.