The British government appears to be blocking commercialisation of GM crops. Margaret Beckett, Rural Affairs Secretary, indicated the results of the official farm scale trials will not be enough to justify lifting the moratorium. A further independent review must satisfy the Government that GM technology had no adverse effects on human health or the environment, she said.
The Government also said there must be much greater separation distances between GM crop sites and organic and non-GM farms. Ministers appear to have accepted consumer concerns and wish to restrict GM contamination of crops through cross-pollination to 0.1 per cent. This is far stricter than the 1 per cent level set for the GM content of animal feed.
Last year, the European Commission indicated that a separation distance of about three miles will achieve a contamination level of 0.3 per cent for GM oil-seed rape crops. To achieve 0.1 per cent, the new separation distances could be six to ten miles.
The Government is also taking public consultation seriously. It has ordered the biotechnology industry to spend six weeks consulting local parishes about GM trial sites this spring before any go-ahead is given.
Mrs Beckett announced the new approach in a letter to Professor Malcolm Grant, head of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, which the government set up to look into farm scale trials. She asked him to advise her by April on how best to engage the public in a debate, if GM and non-GM farming can co-exist, and his views on separation distances.
Professor Vivian Moses, chairman of the CropGen panel, a pro GM panel made up of scientists and academics, and supported by industry, was reported to be disappointed:
"It really is important for the Government to give overt encouragement to the development and application of new technologies."
Article first published February 2002