Government could delay GM crops

18 February 1999

Government could delay GM crops

By FWi staff

THE government has acknowledged for the first time that the commercial planting of the first genetically modified (GM) crops could be delayed by up to a year.

Environment minister Michael Meacher yesterday (Wednesday) indicated that the government was prepared to bow to pressure and delay the commercial growing of GM crops.

Mr Meacher said it might be prudent to delay the first commercial planting of a GM oilseed rape variety which is scheduled to go ahead next spring.

That means that planting of the first commercial GM crops could be delayed until 2001.

“It may well be true that a longer period is required,” Mr Meacher told the Today programme on Radio 4. “What I want to make clear is that we are proceeding extremely carefully.”

Earlier, Mr Meacher denied claims that the government had suppressed a report which raises fears that genetically modified crops harm the environment.

The report was written by civil servants at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and leaked to Friends of the Earth, which is campaigning for a moratorium on GM crops.

“It is wrong to say we are sitting on the report – we are not,” said Mr Meacher. “We are getting it out as fast as we can.”

The report voices concern that current safety regulations may fail to identify the long-term effects on the environment from GM crops in agriculture.

It states that, while certain GM crops may pose a low risk to human health and the environment, widespread commercial uptake by farmers could result in declines in certain wildlife species.

The report continues that scientists weighing up the benefits of GM crops may ignore or give less importance to the potential risks those crops pose to human health or the environment.

“In other words, decisions could be made on the basis of how good we think the GM organism could be, rather than on the basis of what the risks are,” the report says.

Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth said the report showed there was a case for a five year breathing space to consider the potential impacts of GM crops on the environment.

“Were pleased that the Government has now promised to publish it,” he said. “We will be comparing our leaked draft with the final version.”

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