GM crops face strict rules

6 November 1998

GM crops face strict rules

By Jonathan Riley

STRICT and far-reaching farmer contracts to control the introduction of genetically modified crops are being considered by the cross-industry GM promotion body SCIMAC.

NFU representative on SCIMAC, Bob Fiddaman, said farmers hoping to grow the first commercial GM crops – probably in 2001 – would have to sign an "inter-party" contract with merchants, the supply trade body UKASTA and the seed company.

The contract would set out the standards that farmers had to reach and stipulate that they should take advice on how to grow the crop from the seed merchants agronomist.

For example, he predicted that contracts detailing the siting of the crop, the distance from other crops on the farm, and pesticide management guidelines would be set out.

"Although it impinges on farmers independence, the industry must be seen to be handling the introduction of crops correctly," said Mr Fiddaman.

He added that SCIMAC was considering using planting distances set out in the organic seed standards. "These distances are greater than the distances in conventional planting, but we want to try to meet any consumer concerns by going beyond the current standards.

"Initially at least, this means planting rape crops 200m away from conventional rape crops," he said.

He did not expect that the extra distances and separate storage and handling of crops would mean farmers turning their entire units over to GM crops.

"The question depends more on whether the farm is big enough to be able to adhere to the distances required between crop plantings. But after the initial years, if there appears to be no problem, these controls could be relaxed over time anyway," he said.

Mr Fiddaman expected that contracts would also be "tight" in the first year on farm-saved seed. "Contracts will be worded in the first year or two, to disincline people from saving seed. Otherwise the government will not be able to control subsequent plantings and, therefore, would be unable to monitor for any environmental impact," he said.

Thereafter, stringent testing of farm-saved seed would be introduced. But Mr Fiddaman believed that, while there was nothing in the guidelines preventing farm-saved seed, the level of testing required would incur costs making the option prohibitively expensive.

He predicted that by the third or fourth year of commercial use, one-third of oilseed rape grown in the UK would be from GM crops. "Once we reach this stage the possibility of zoning crops may be an option employed to guard against cross pollination of other crops," he said, with, for example, glyphosate-tolerant rapes grouped together in areas.

To ensure that was successful, Mr Fiddaman said MAFF could then be empowered to order the destruction of GM crops grown outside designated areas.

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