31 July 1998
Minister reassures on organic
farming after crops row
By Brian Brady, Press Association
THE expansion of organic farming will not be jeopardised by the introduction of genetically-modified crops, deputy agriculture minister Jeff Rooker insisted last night (Thursday).
Mr Rooker pledged to work with organic farmers to maintain the protection of organically-grown produce – but warned the Government would not impose a complete bar on the development of GM “super-crops”.
He was speaking during a short Commons debate called by Tory Anthony Steen following a high-profile court action by a Totnes constituent who claimed his organic sweetcorn could be contaminated by the genetically-modified maize planted on an experimental site nearby.
Mr Steen warned agriculture faced a “make or break” situation with the expansion of GM crops, and urged a tightening of regulations controlling their development.
The Court of Appeal last week ruled no action could be taken against the maize crop near organic farmer Guy Watsons sweetcorn because it had not been proved it was causing harm.
But Mr Steen said the case had raised questions over the legality of over 1,000 experimental crops – including 163 GM varieties.
“Some 1,200 experimental crops are currently blowing in the wind illegally across the country,” he told MPs.
“It means we have got to make them lawful or pull them up.”
Replying, Mr Rooker said the Government wanted to take action “to ensure the expansion of GM crops in no way damages organic farming”.
He said: “It would be absolutely stupid for the Government to push more money to convert for organic farming and at the same time have those farmers who have taken this brave step damaged by others actions.
Mr Rooker noted the Court of Appeal had found the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food acted unlawfully by not requiring the applicant for the GM crop for the experimental field in the case to submit the results of two trials with his application.
The court criticised MAFF and said the issue “needed to resolved speedily and across the board”.
The Minister said the Government was looking “very, very carefully” at the legal situation of GM varieties on the national list of approved crops – but he could not report yet on progress made.
“It is under active and urgent consideration,” Mr Rooker told the House.