GM trials are likely cause of rural unrest

3 May 2002

GM trials are likely cause of rural unrest

IMMINENT commercial planting of genetically modified crops could cause rural unrest pitching farmer against farmer, the governments GM watchdog has warned.

The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission delivered proposals for a public debate on GM crops to DEFRA this week.

Commission chairman Malcolm Grant warned the government that conflict over GM crops could break out if the issue is mishandled.

"It is not an issue in which a heavy-handed response either way is likely to win ministers friends," said Prof Grant. "The government has to listen and be seen to be listening."

His comments, made in a Financial Times article, came in the same week that Labour MP Alan Simpson said some GM maize from UK trial sites may already have been fed to cattle in the UK.

Mr Simpson alleged that one of the farmers taking part in GM maize trials had fed the maize to his stock. If true, the farmer would be in breach of a voluntary code agreed by biotech firms. The code does not allow commercial use of GM crops in the UK until field-scale evaluations have been completed and assessed, which will be spring 2003 at the earliest.

Voluntary code

"Farm workers and observers contacted me giving specific fields and cattle reference numbers where grazing [of the GM maize] had been allowed," said Mr Simpson on BBCs Farming Today programme. "I now know the voluntary code is not being honoured, monitored nor enforced and it makes it absolutely worthless."

Modified crops also hit the headlines after the results of a chicken feeding study led the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment to re-open the hearing on the safety of T25 GM maize.

ACRE had concluded the maize was safe to use as cattle feed. But a study which showed that twice as many chickens died when fed GM maize compared with those on a conventional diet had not been considered in ACREs conclusions.

ACRE chairman Lord Alan Gray told Farming Today that the data should be re-analysed "but it is not possible to conclude [from the study] that the mortality rate was elevated". &#42

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