10 March 2004
Anti-GM movement vows to fight maize approval
Even some normally in favour express doubts as
campaigners accuse the government of betraying public
trust and threaten direct action
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Wednesday March 10, 2004
Anger at the government's approval for the commercial
growing of GM maize and pledges to continue to fight
it were widespread yesterday, but biotech companies
and some in the scientific community welcomed the
decision. The government was accused of ignoring
public opinion and some groups promised direct action
against the crops.
The director of Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper,
said: "The government has given the thumbs up to GM
maize, and shown two fingers to the British public.
Moreover, this crop will be fed to cows to make milk
that will not be labelled as GM, making a mockery of
official claims that policy will preserve consumer
Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK's director, said: "They've
betrayed the public's trust, no wonder people are
cynical about our political system. The government has
ignored the conclusions of the public debate, has had
no debate in parliament, and given the biotech
industry the benefit of the doubt about scientific
Professor Chris Lamb, director of the John Innes
Centre, Norwich, said: "I warmly welcome the
government's decision, not least because they have
chosen to make policy based on scientific evidence,
rather than campaigning rhetoric."
Greenpeace GM campaigner Sarah North warned: "Downing
Street should know that there are thousands upon
thousands of people ready to fight Tony Blair on this.
The end result could be chaos in the countryside
during an election year. Today isn't the end - it's
just the start of it."
Opposition from political parties was also strong.
Ministers in Wales and Scotland have already said they
will be as restrictive as possible on GM crops without
breaking the law.
At the National Assembly for Wales, the environment
minister, Carwyn Jones, said: "We have consistently
endorsed taking the most restrictive approach possible
to the growing and commercialisation of GM crops
within current UK and EU legislation.
The shadow agriculture secretary, John Whittingdale,
said: "The government has chosen to ignore its own
consultation process which demonstrated that 90% of
public opinion was against the growth of GM produce."
Even the normally pro-GM Royal Society was cautious.
It said long-term monitoring of the environmental
impact must be undertaken urgently.
The National Farmers' Union has always been in favour
of farmers being allowed to grow GM crops. But
yesterday its president, Tim Bennett, said: "The
farming industry, as always, will strive to provide a
safe and diverse choice for the consumer, but it is
important to develop measures to protect businesses
that choose not to explore the GM option."
Sir David Carter of the British Medical Association
also struck a note of caution. "Our assessment ... is
that there is very little potential for GM foods to
cause harmful health effects. However, the BMA
recognises the huge public concern over the impact of
GM foods and believes that research is still needed in
Professor Jules Pretty of the government's advisory
committee on releases to the environment, who chaired
the body set up to evaluate the three years of GM crop
trials, said: "This decision by government correctly
shows that GM crops should be treated on a case by
"This particular GM, herbicide-tolerant maize, is
better for wildlife than its conventional equivalents,
and given no other concerns, risks to consumers or the
environment, the scientific community has concluded
that it should be made available to farmers."
Major stumbling blocks remain
Although GM maize was given the go-ahead in 1997, all
the necessary consents for it to be grown have still
to be given.
· Spring 2004 First the seed itself, a GM maize
variety known as Chardon LL, has to be added to the
national seed list as suitable for growing. This could
be a formality, but the Scottish and Welsh
administrations have to agree and have not yet done
The patented herbicide that is sprayed on the maize
also has to be given formal approval for commercial
The government has developed a proposed regime for
separation distances between crops, to avoid cross
pollination or contamination. It has also to come up
with an idea to compensate any conventional or organic
farmers who lose financially because of contamination
by GM crops.
This is a major stumbling block.
· Summer 2004 In the summer a new public consultation
exercise will take place on both the separation
distances and the compensation regimes needed before
crops can be planted. Proposals on how to legally
enforce these will be developed.
· December 2004 The government is to announce the
results of scientific and public consultation on
separation and compensation schemes.
· January/February 2005 Legislation to give statutory
backing to a regime for growing GM crops, including
protection for conventional and organic farmers who
suffer as a result. GM farmers and the companies will
be made liable for malpractice and monitoring.
· Spring 2005 (at the earliest) GM maize could be
planted - if all the above goes according to plan and
does not get delayed by legal challenges from organic
farming organisations and environmental groups.
· Spring 2006 The latest that GM maize can be planted
before its licence runs out in October 2006. The
government says it will have to reapply for a new
licence. New trials take place to assess whether GM
maize is better or worse than conventional maize for
the environment, and whether more weeds and insects
survive in the fields. By then atrazine, which is
currently used to treat conventional maize, will have
been phased out and a less damaging alternative will
be in use.
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