GM TRIAL work is in danger of grinding to a halt in the UK as both biotech
companies and those involved in the Government's own farm-scale evaluation
programme find it increasingly difficult to persuade farmers to allow their
land to be used for the controversial crops. Fear of being exposed to
costly legal damage claims from neighbouring farmers, as well as possible
long-term environmental problems, are turning out to be as significant in
the decision-making process as concern over direct action by anti-GM
protesters. Meanwhile, 'GM-free zones' are on the horizon.
One insurance expert admitted that with GM crops being such a grey area,
farmers choosing to grow them were "virtually on their own". Underwriting
manager at the NFU Mutual [insurance run by the National Farmers Union],
Sid Gibson, confirmed to FARMING NEWS that the principles surrounding GM
crops were not clearcut and the Mutual was trying to formulate its policy.
"The big unknown is where there is a risk of cross contamination," he said
"Farmers considering growing GM crops should get their legal advisers to
look at the contract very carefully. Responsibility should be with the
biotech company or institution carrying out the trials." Chairman of the
Arable Research Institute Association, Frank Oldfield, confirmed that
insurance was a major issue. "I've come across a number of farmers who have
said they are prepared to grow GM crops, but want to know who's going to
insure them. If we can't grow the stuff we'll be out on a limb, at a
disadvantage with the rest of the world."
This week it became clear that the South West of England is well on the way
to becoming the first UK 'GMO-free zone'. All the region's agricultural
colleges are expected to become no-go areas for GMOs following the Royal
Agricultural College's decision not to take part in farmscale GM crop
experiments. "The possibility of the college being targeted by vandals was
simply too great," farm manager Mike Limb told
FARMING NEWS. The Duchy of Cornwall's London estate offices said that all
future tenancy agreements would prohibit farmers using the technology and
it was encouraging existing tenants to adopt the same policy.
County council farm estates in the region also look likely to follow
Somerset County Council's decision to block cultivation of GM crops on its
10,000acre estate. But Dr Peter Lutman, the co ordinator of the BRIGHT
project set up to investigate day-to-day
management problems on-farm, appealed for farmers to come forward. "GM
crops are not up to commercial standards using conventional farm practice,"
he said. "Only by monitoring day-to-day management problems on-farm can we
learn to grow them safely and successfully".
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