1 August 1998


Trials Ruling Opens Up A Can Of Worms

ITS funny how any row between two parties takes on mammoth proportions as soon as the lawyers are brought in.

Complications come to the surface, and the legal bills go sky high. So someone benefits – but its not the protagonists.

Thats just whats happened with the legal challenge brought by the organic maize grower who objected to GM trials next door.

Although the Court of Appeal dismissed his plea regarding the GM trials, it has brought to light the fact that MAFFs national list trialling system is not strictly in line with existing legislation.

The small print of the Ministrys own regulations calls for two years of trials results to be attached to applications for varieties to be included in national list trials. And only varieties which have been through the national list system are allowed to go through to the Recommended List trials – so this affects most crops grown in the UK.

This data stipulation has fallen into abeyance in recent times. It is no longer considered necessary, because the data is not taken into account with the final verdict on the variety. So plant breeders, MAFF and NIAB – the last as MAFFs trials agent – have all operated on the basis that the extra two years data is not required.

Now the balloon has gone up. If the lawyers had their way and the legislation was enforced to the letter, then it would outlaw most of the varieties now grown in the UK. This situation would be a nonsense. The whole industry would face crippling bills, and the supply of seed would dry up.

Theres no sensible alternative: the legislation needs to be brought up to date with the current commercial practice, and should apply retrospectively. The pity is that the situation has now become muddled with the GM issue.

The anti-GM lobby will fight to keep the law as it stands, to delay the entry of GM varieties.

MAFFs legal department is now working overtime to sort out the muddle. It should never have been allowed to happen in the first place – but now that it has come to light, a solution must be found, fast, that doesnt jeopardise growers incomes.

Not mad, bad or dangerous to know…

ARE farmers psychologically different from the rest of the population? No, its not 1 April – this is the title of a scientific paper put together after four years research by psychologists, statisticians and agricultural economists.

Anyone who has contact with farmers might insist that the answer is yes – and that they dont need a huge chunk research grant to come to that conclusion. Ask any rep and theyll say that farmers are the most difficult, awkward customers – perhaps not such a bad thing seen from the other side of the fence…

Heres the official answer – and its good news. Farmers are different – but only in that they are "more intelligent" than the general population. No, its true. Part of this result could be explained by the fact that the test includes an aspect of braininess called "crystallised intelligence". Thats psycho babble for wisdom due to age and experience, rather than quick wittedness.

But when it comes to personal characteristics, farmers are just as agreeable, open and conscientious as the rest of society. They have the same ability to cope under stress, and are only as neurotic as average. And they are definitely not "sad loners" – the extroversion rating is up there with the best.

Theres just one trait that isnt covered – the happiness quotient. No help there. Or perhaps the psychologists didnt have a scale that went low enough, given the current economic climate…

See more