Extra discussion welcomed on GM crop introduction
FARMERS, scientists and the public are being given the chance to have their say on the use of new genetically modified (GM) herbicide tolerant crops, which could be in commercial use by autumn 1998.
In an example of Labours pledge of open government, MAFF has released a discussion paper to 49 farming, scientific and consumer organisations on the pros and cons of such crops.
Launching the document, junior farm minister Lord Donoughue said the new crops could improve yields and may result in the use of less chemicals. But there could be implications for weed control if genes are transferred to other crops or neighbouring farms.
Lord Donoughue said the government would like to see EU-wide labelling of GM foods, but was open to different alternatives.
The MAFF paper says government could either encourage industry to manage developments, set up its own code of practice, introduce regulatory controls on agricultural implications, ban cultivation of GM crops or press for further EU regulatory controls.
Reaction to the release of the paper has been mixed. While the NFU and Soil Association welcomed the chance for wider discussion of biotechnological issues, the British Society of Plant Breeders and UKASTA felt enough consultations had already taken place involving the UKs independent advisory committees and other forums.
Vernon Barber, NFU biotechnology adviser, said its working party had called on government to press ahead with GM crops in the UK, though close environmental monitoring should be undertaken by the Department of the Environment.
It also wanted to see the setting up of zones between GM and conventional crops to prevent the spread of plants with multiple herbicide tolerance.
Roger Turner, British Society of Plant Breeders chief executive, said the UKs advisory committees had given the GM crops the thumbs-up, but it seemed the UK had the lack of courage to go ahead with the technology. "There are 40m acres of GM crops being grown in North America, yet nothing here." *