Blair accused of leaving GM-contaminated legacy

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair's legacy will be a British countryside contaminated by genetically modified crops, a leading environmental campaigner has warned. The attack was prompted by a government decision to open a consultation on ground rules for growing GM crops.

Ministers said that was separate from any decision on whether to allow GM crops to be grown commercially, which is not expected before 2009. The only GM crops now grown in the UK are strictly controlled scientific trials. Ian Pearson, the Environment minister, insisted the new proposals were "not a green light for GM crops".

"Our top priority is protecting consumers and the environment," he said. "We have a strict EU regime which ensures only GM crops safe for human health and the environment could be grown in the UK. No GMs suitable for UK conditions have met this requirement so far. But we have a responsibility to be fully prepared if crops which meet the safety criteria are developed and grown here."

Environmentalists say the document was written with a view to making it easy for GM crops to be grown in the UK on a large commercial scale because they suspect Mr Blair is determined to make the UK a major producer of GM crops, despite evidence that Britons are against it.

The consultation sets out the size of the mandatory buffer zones between GM and non-GM crops. It would allow farmers to plant GM oilseed rape just 35 metres from non-GM crops. The minimum distances for GM maize would be longer, 80 metres for forage maize, and 110 metres for grain maize.

Anti-GM campaigners say that these limits are insufficient and that seeds from GM oilseed rape will cross to contaminate nearby crops. Clare Oxborrow, a GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth, described the consultation as a "complete sham".

A troubled history

1983 First genetic modification of a tobacco plant

1985 Small-scale field trials of GM crops begin, including in the UK

1993 US Food and Drug Administration says GM food is "not inherently dangerous"

1994 World's first GM food goes on sale

1996 GM tomato paste appears in UK shops

1998 40 million hectares of GM crops planted globally

1999 UK supermarkets clear shelves of GM food after public outcry

2000 UK starts farm trials of GM crops

2002 Starving Zambia rejects GM food aid

2003 Britons reject GM food in public consultation

2006 New rules suggest GM crops can be grown 35 metres from other crops