Government unconvinced by GM guidelines

05 November 1998

Government unconvinced by GM guidelines

By Johann Tasker and Jonathan Riley

GOVERNMENT ministers will refuse to back voluntary guidelines designed to regulate the introduction of genetically modified crops unless they are fully satisfied that farmers will abide by the rules.

The announcement comes days after the cross-industry Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) said it was considering strict and far-reaching controls to regulate the introduction of GM crops.

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker said this morning (Thursday) that the Government would not endorse the voluntary approach unless it was convinced farmers would fully comply with the guidelines.

Speaking to a meeting of the Womens Farmers Union in London, Mr Rooker urged producers to recognise that many consumers had voiced fears over the introduction of GM crops.

“Consumers are also customers,” said Mr Rooker. “We must recognise that and act on it. It is not in the food industrys interest to ignore the concerns of their customers. Farmers are part of that industry.”

Under proposals being considered by SCIMAC, farmers hoping to grow GM crops would have to sign an “inter-party” contract with merchants, the supply trade body UKASTA, and the seed company that supplied the seeds.

The contract would set out the safety standards that farmers must reach. It would also stipulate that farmers must take advice from the seed merchants agronomist on how to grow the crops.

Bob Fiddaman, the National Farmers Union representative to SCIMAC said the contracts under consideration also restrict the use of farm-saved GM seed.

“Contracts will be worded in the first year or two to discipline people from saving seed,” said Mr Fiddaman. “Otherwise the Government will not be able to control subsequent plantings and, therefore, would be unable to monitor for any environmental impact,”

The SCIMAC proposals have been criticised by the pro-organic Soil Association which is opposed to the introduction of GM crops.

The Associations director, Patrick Holden, said it was unacceptable for the Government to allow SCIMAC to set the rules by which farmers were then expected to abide.

“How can the Government appoint an industry body to devise a scheme and then police it when it has a vested interest in seeing GMs introduced?” asked Mr Holden.

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