MAFF rejects GM planning claims

24 August 2000

MAFF rejects GM planning claims

By Isabel Davies

THE Ministry of Agriculture has rejected claims Greenpeace that it needs planning permission for farm scale trials of genetically modified crops.

In a statement the ministry said it believed the government would not be acting unlawfully if it proceeded with the trials.

The ministry said it did not accept Greenpeaces claim that because the trials were research they were outside the exemption in planning law for agriculture.

This marks a change in stance from the government on the issue.

Earlier in the month the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions (DETR) said it said it could not comment on Greenpeace claims.

It said this was because any local authority action could involve the secretary of state John Prescott, either in his appellate role or in court.

The DETR said it would defer to the Courts and not seek to offer any interpretation.

But MAFF insisted: We have no doubt that agricultural research of the kind undertaken in the farm scale evaluations does come within the meaning of agriculture.

Research has been an integral feature of agriculture for many years.

MAFF also disputed the assertion from the environmental group that, if planning permission were required, it would be down to the government to apply for it.

The ministry said as it was down to the company to arrange for the crops to be grown with farmers.

Any planning permission would have to be sought from the local planning authority by the company and the farmers on whose property the trials were taking place.

The statement coincided with an announcement on Wednesday (23 Aug) by junior environment minister Beverley Hughes that consents had been given to Aventis to sow 21 sites of GM winter oilseed rape.

This consent will enable the autumn farm-scale evaluations programme to begin.

Autumn sown oilseed rape is grown widely throughout the UK and this research is vital to assess what effect the management of GM oilseed rape would have on farmland wildlife, if it was to become part of commercial agriculture

The minister said that separation distances for these crops would be 50 metres or 200 metres for organic crops.

As a precautionary measure it has been agreed that where farmers are planting certain varieties more prone to cross contamination the separation distance will be increased to at least 400metres.

Ms Hughes said: We have responded to the NIAB report findings on Varietal Associations by securing an important increase in separation distances that protect them.

If the MAFF review of separation distances shows that further changes are necessary to minimise cross-pollination with adjacent oilseed rape crops we shall take the action well before these crops flower in the spring.

A spokesman for Greenpeace said the organisation was seeking legal opinion on the statement so could not comment further.

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