20 May 1999
Government to endose GM code
By Johann Tasker
THE government is set to endorse controversial new guidelines allowing farmers to monitor the environmental effects of growing genetically modified (GM) crops.
The voluntary scheme would permit the monitoring of GM crops to be carried out by producers and the biotechnology industry, rather than an independent body.
But it is certain to infuriate organic farmers and environmental campaigners who have called for a five-year moratorium on the commercial release of GMs.
Cabinet minister Jack Cunningham, who is chairman of the governments cabinet committee on biotechnology, will approve the new guidelines tomorrow (Friday).
He will make the endorsement during an announcement tomorrow morning at the House of Commons on the environmental monitoring of GM crops.
Dr Cunningham will announce other changes the government has made as a result of its review of the regulatory framework for overseeing GM developments.
He will also publish a paper from the governments Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser reassuring the public about the safety of GM food.
The voluntary code was drawn up by the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC), a group of organisations in favour of GM crops.
SCIMAC members include biotechnology companies, the National Farmers Union, seed-breeding firms and representatives of agricultural suppliers.
The group has already proposed making farmers sign an “inter-party” contract with merchants and seed companies before allowing them to grow GM crops.
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 to a voluntary code of practice, has previously condemned the proposals as feeble, unworkable and unenforceable”.
But the government will feel vindicated by this weeks Royal Society report criticising the scientific work which fuelled public concern about GM crops.
The report found flaws in a study by Dr Arpad Pusztai, the scientist who fed GM potatoes to rats when working at the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen.
Dr Cunninghams planned defence of biotechnology received another boost this week from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.
The committee accused supermarkets of “rolling over” in the face of hysterical media hype by withdrawing GM food from shelves.