21 October 1998
Jack’s back — Cunningham to monitor GM crops
By FWi staff
FORMER agriculture minister Jack Cunningham is to head a ministerial group which will monitor the first commercial plantings of genetically modified (GM) crops.
Dr Cunningham, who left MAFF in July to become Minister for the Cabinet Office, will chair the group which will discuss – and advise the Government on – the environmental impact of GM issues raised by biotechnology.
The Ministerial Group on Biotechnology and Genetic Modification will work in parallel with the Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment (ACRE), which is currently the Governments main advisor on GM technology.
ACRE will remain a scientifically-based committee and will consider applications to market GM crops and other organisms on a case-by-case basis.
The new group was unveiled today (Wednesday) by junior farm minister Jeff Rooker and environment minister Michael Meacher at a House of Lords Select Committee meeting.
The two ministers also revealed that tough new measures, better safety checks and greater transparency must be achieved by biotech companies before GM crops are made commercially available to all farmers.
Mr Meacher said he had considered recent calls by the Governments wildlife advisors English Nature for a moratorium on GM crops.
“I feel strongly that the use of GM crops in agriculture must not put unacceptable pressure of our countryside and wildlife, and prejudice our goal of maintaining and, where possible, enhancing farmland biodiversity,” he said.
Under a fresh agreement with plant breeders, the first farm-scale plantings will be strictly limited and monitored for environmental effects alongside commercial plantings of conventional crops.
“It is extremely important that we do not travel further down the road to commercialisation of GM crops before we have this information,” said Mr Meacher.
Mr Rooker said the Government was also considering going even further by introducing monitoring arrangements capable of identifying any unexpected effects from GM crops should they emerge in the future.
“I hope to be able to make a further announcement about this shortly,” he said. “We are not rushing ahead, but thinking ahead.”