Keep an eye on GM crops for 10 years NFU

27 March 1998

Keep an eye on GM crops for 10 years — NFU

By Shelley Wright

INDEPENDENT post-release monitoring of genetically modified crops should be done for 10 years after each variety is commercially grown in the UK for the first time, according to the NFU.

In an updated report from the unions biotechnology working group, chaired by
Shropshire dairy farmer Ben Boot, the potential benefits farmers might reap from biotechnology are highlighted.

The emerging technology will, the group believes, provide additional
opportunities to help farmers improve the efficiency of production.

While it will not solve all problems, biotechnology can play an important and
innovative role in maintaining the competitiveness of UK agriculture and
horticulture, the report adds.

The group conclude that the recognised risks of introducing biotechnology on
farms are considered by most observers to be low.

“However, there are some concerns,” the report says, listing the use of
antibiotic resistant marker genes in some genetically modified crops, and
possible transfer of herbicide resistance from GM plants to weeds, that would
then be difficult to control, as examples.

Although releases of GM varieties, whether for trial or for future
commercial sale, have to be authorised by the Secretary of State for the
environment, the NFU believes that the “regulatory controls do not take
sufficient account of all the potential environmental post-release hazards and their implications when genetically modified plants are grown on a commercial scale”.

The report says: “In general, it can be said that scientists do not have
a complete understanding of natural ecosystems. It is therefore impossible
to predict accurately the effects of large scale releases of genetically
modified organisms.”

The union is concerned that there is currently no requirement for monitoring
environmental change after consent to market a GM crop has been granted.

“The Government should, therefore, be proactive in setting up a process of post-release monitoring of newly approved commercial growing of GM plants,” the group says.

Monitoring should be independent, should be paid for by Government, and should be either directed by Government or under Government contract. It should be done for 10 years, with the monitors given the power to withdraw approval for a crop immediately if any severe environmental changes are seen.

  • For this and other stories, see Farmers Weekly, 27 March-2 April, 1998

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