21 April 1999
Government to decide on gene crop code
CONTROVERSIAL proposals for a voluntary code to regulate the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops could come into effect later today (Wednesday).
The government is considering whether to approve a code of conduct drawn up by the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC).
SCIMAC is a group of organisations – including the National Farmers Union and various biotechnology companies – which favours the introduction of GM crops.
The code could be implemented immediately if it is endorsed this afternoon by a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Biotechnology.
It is understood that the proposals would allow farmers organisations and the biotechnology industry to monitor the environmental effects of GM crops.
Farmers hoping to grow GM crops would have to sign an “inter-party” contract with merchants and the company that supplied the seeds.
The contract would set out the safety standards that farmers must reach and would stipulate that farmers must take advice from agronomists on how to grow the crops.
Friends of the Earth (FoE), which is opposed in principle to a voluntary code of practice, said the proposals were “feeble, unworkable and unenforceable”.
The voluntary approach took no account of farm biodiversity or evidence that GM crops could cross-breed with wild plants, said Adrian Bebb, FoE spokesman.
Mr Bebb said the safety barriers proposed by the code to prevent contamination of non-GM crops were inadequate.
He also voiced concern that organic farmers would not be legally protected if their organic crops were cross-pollination by nearby GM varieties.
“If the Government endorses this code then the lawyers will have a field day sorting out the disputes that will inevitably arise between farmers,” said Mr Bebb.
“Farmers should steer clear of GM crops until these issues have been resolved.”
Junior Agriculture Minister Jeff Rooker said that the Government must approve the industrys plans before commercial GM crop growing can begin.
A voluntary code was needed because there was no Parliamentary time to make it law, Mr Rooker told Radio 4s Today programme this morning.