GM code could wipe out wildlife

22 June 1999

GM code ‘could wipe out wildlife’

By Johann Tasker

GOVERNMENT advisors warned today that farmers could “eliminate all wildlife from their fields” by following a government-endorsed code to grow genetically modified (GM) crops.

English Nature, the governments wildlife advisors, said that a voluntary code approved by Cabinet Office minister Jack Cunningham last month was “very limited”.

Dr Cunningham endorsed the code on 21 May during a major announcement designed to quell public concern about the effect of GM crops on human health and the environment.

The guidelines were drawn up by the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC), a group of organisations in favour of GM crops.

Members of SCIMAC include the biotechnology companies behind GM crops, the National Farmers Union, seed-breeding firms and agricultural suppliers.

The voluntary code aimed to set out the safety standards that farmers must reach when growing GM crops.

But an English Nature briefing published today claims that the code is “very limited in its purpose” and not designed to protect biodiversity.

“Even if growers followed the code to the letter, they could eliminate all wildlife from their fields,” the briefing says.

The guidelines are intended to protect the integrity of the supply chain and should not be seen as reducing any environmental risk from GM crops, it continues.

“Voluntary codes of practice in agriculture have rarely worked as intended,” says the briefing.

“They failed for pesticides and for straw-burning, eventually being replaced by strong legislation.”

English Nature is pressing the government and the biotechnology industry for a delay in the commercial introduction of GM crops until further research is completed.

“Biotechnology is such a powerful way of producing radically new crops that we believe statutory on-farm controls are essential,” says the briefing.

Despite repeated phone-calls this afternoon (Tuesday), nobody from SCIMAC was available for comment.

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