4 April 2000
GM trials threaten 34 organic farms
By Donald MacPhail
THIRTY FOUR farms in the UK could lose their organic status if field-scale trials of genetically modified crops go ahead, the Soil Association has warned.
Pollen from GM sites could drift over and contaminate organic crops, claims the organisation which administers and promotes organic farming.
The association, which has a zero-tolerance policy towards GMs in organic food, could withdraw accreditation from organic produce if contamination occurs.
It is currently informing farmers and assessing the degree of the risk., saying that ministers have ignored requests to protect organic farmers.
The association claims it has drawn attention to the situation during five meetings over the past 12 months with environment minister Michael Meacher.
But the government has failed to take into consideration the location of organic farms when planning the GM trial sites, the Soil Association claims.
“The government is showing a scandalous disregard for the interests of farmers and consumers,” said Patrick Holden, the associations director.
Trials were using “half-baked research criteria” and would take three years to demonstrate nothing of any public interest,” he claimed.
“It is a violation of the democratic rights of the majority.
“To go against repeated pledges that successive ministers have made to protect the rights of organic producers is adding insult to injury. We are furious.”
The Soil Association claims that agriculture minister Nick Brown and former food safety minister, Jeff Rooker pledged to protect organic farmers from GMs.
In January, a Soil Association report claimed recommended isolation distances intended to prevent cross-pollination are wholly inadequate.
This was denied by the pro-GM Supply Chain Initiative on Genetically Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC), which devised the isolation guidelines.
It said the Soil Association confused pollen flow with gene flow.
Pollen could travel further than the guideline distances, SCIMAC acknowledged, but it was unlikely to still be viable for cross-pollination.
However, environmental groups in addition to the Soil Association have also expressed their concern about cross-contamination.
Last weekend, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth released the addresses of many of the farmers taking part in the GM trials.
The public had a right to know where the sites were so they could lobby the farmers involved to withdraw from the experiments, said the groups.