By MARIE WOOLF, Political Correspondent
INDEPENDENT (London) May 9
GENETIC contamination of various kinds is inevitable if GM crops are
grown here commercially, according to unpublished research
commissioned by ministers.
And organic farmers could face ruin if GM crops are allowed to be
grown on a commercial scale in Britain, says the report, now being
studied in Whitehall. It warns that organic crops are certain to be
contaminated by GM plants because their pollen can spread far beyond
the boundaries of fields.
The conclusions of the report, written by biotechnology and
agriculture experts at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, have severe
implications for Britain's burgeoning organic food sector.
Organic food is defined as being "pesticide and additive free" in
Britain and any kind of genetic engineering is banned by the Soil
Association, which regulates organic farming.
The report says organic farmers should set standards for acceptable
levels of pollution by GM plants and that a system for checking for
contamination should be put in place.
"Neither source of contamination, either pollen or seed, can be
entirely eliminated, so acceptable levels have to be decided on," says
But organic farmers say that the report supports their view that GM
crops pose a serious threat to their livelihoods. They argue that
consumer confidence in organic food would inevitably be undermined if
even limited contamination was tolerated.
The report, Organic Farming and Gene Transfer from Genetically
Modified Crops, examined data from trials of GM crops to see whether
the proposed "buffer zones" between fields of GM and organic crops
would protect them from contamination.
It asserts that the proposed barriers around ordinary crops could
result in up to one per cent of organic plants becoming GM hybrids.
The Soil Association has said that a six-mile barrier is the minimum
guarantee that organic crops are not tainted.
"We are determined to maintain the purity of organic crops in the UK
and this is why we have set ourselves against GM," said Richard Young
of the Soil Association. "The boundaries between GM crops are totally
inadequate to protect organic farmers from GM crops. We are about
sustainable agriculture working in harmony with nature - not altering
it for a quick-fix solution."
GM pollen can travel large distances on the wind, and is also carried
by bees. GM seeds can also fall off trucks and farm machinery during
transport or be left in the ground, leading to the growth of stray
Ministers have promised to protect Britain's growing organic farming
sector from the threat from GM crops. But environmentalists say that
organic farmers are being betrayed.
"The Government seems to be about to renege on its promise to protect
the organic farmer from genetic pollution," said Pete Riley of Friends
of the Earth. "Non-organic farmers hoping to get into the expanding GM
free market are also vulnerable to this type of contamination. with
organic produce no level of GM contamination is acceptable."
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