LONDON, May 12 (Reuters) - The British government scrambled on
Wednesday to deal with a leaked report which said commercial growing of
genetically modified crops would contaminate other foodstuffs over large
A Ministry of Agriculture official said the report had not yet gone to
ministers while the John Innes research centre, whose experts compiled the
study, said it had been leaked.
Neither would comment on it before publication, due late this month or
early in June after the government has digested its contents. But organic
farmers were outraged.
Environment Minister Michael Meacher tried to quell the latest fears
about GM foods which have become a headache for the government. Public
opinion is largely against them but Prime Minister Tony Blair determined
that Britain should remain at the forefront of the technology.
``The government is very concerned to preserve the integrity of
organic farming,'' Meacher told BBC radio. ``We want to see an increase in
organic farming. We want to see proper separation distances. Exactly what
they should be is a matter that we are now looking at extremely closely.''
The Daily Mail said the John Innes Centre will tell the government
that pollen from GM crops can be spread across wide distances by winds and
The paper said the report -- ``Organic Farming and Gene Transfer from
Genetically Modified Crops'' -- concluded that contamination could not be
entirely stopped so acceptable levels would have to be decided upon.
Official GM crop trials operate with only a 200-yard buffer zone. The
Soil Association, which regulates organic farming, says a six-mile barrier
is the minimum needed to guarantee organic crops are not contaminated.
``We are determined to maintain the purity of organic crops in the UK
and this is why we have set ourselves against GM,'' said the association's
Richard Young. ``The boundaries between GM crops are totally inadequate to
protect organic farmers.''
Meacher said the question of whether consumers wanted foods labelled
as GM-free to be just that, or whether they may accept a residual amount of
modified ingredients amounting to one or two percent, was key.
``If the answer is that people expect it to be virtually nil, that
does require considerably greater separation distances,'' he said. ``It is
perfectly true that...there are no 'no-fly' zones for bees and they can
travel long distances.''
English Nature, a government advisory body, has called for a five-year
ban on the commercial release of GM crops to allow more research on their
environmental impact. But Cabinet Office minister Jack Cunningham has said
if all regulatory hurdles were cleared, commercial planting of GM crops
could begin next year.
Mad cow disease, the human equivalent of which has claimed about 30
British lives, has made people deeply conscious of food safety and
sensitive to stories about ``Frankenstein foods.'' Most supermarkets have
already banned GM foods from their stores or, at the very least, clearly
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