GM giant abandons bid to grow crops in Britain

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In a huge blow to the genetically modified food lobby, Bayer Cropscience has given up attempts to grow commercial GM maize in Britain.

In a huge blow to the genetically modified food lobby, Bayer Cropscience has given up attempts to grow commercial GM maize in Britain.

The decision, blamed by the company on government restrictions, means no GM crop will be grown commercially in the UK in 2005 and raises questions about the future of GM in this country.

The German biotechnology company will announce today that its maize variety Chardon LL, which was to be developed as cattle feed, had been left "economically non-viable" because of conditions set by the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett when she gave limited approval to the growing of the crop this month.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said last night: "We do not apologise for the fact there is a tough EU-wide regulatory regime on GMs. This is a commercial decision made by Bayer and they have decided to withdraw their application, [which means] there will not be any commercial cultivation of GM crops in 2005 in the UK.

"In the current climate in the EU, with member states' strong views on these matters, there's little prospect of any GM crops coming forward for consideration in the near future. We always said it would be for the market to decide [the future of GM]."

There were suggestions last night that GM crops were unlikely to be grown in the UK until 2008, when GM oil seed rape may be approved for cultivation.

Bayer's decision will be seen as a huge win for the former environment minister Michael Meacher and green groups.

Chardon LL, which Bayer had wanted to commercially grow, was developed for approval in 1999. It is already grown in the Netherlands.

A Bayer spokesman confirmed the imminent withdrawal of its application to grow in the UK last night. The company told The Financial Times the UK's tough GM regulatory regime could jeopardise the industry. It said: "New regulations should enable GM crops to be grown in the UK - not disable future attempts to grow them."

Chardon LL gained approval after trials showed it caused less damage to wildlife than its conventional equivalent, but ministers have not yet decided rules for mixing GM and non-GM crops and what compensation might be paid for contamination by GM pollen.

Bayer said: "These uncertainties and undefined timelines will make this five-year-old variety economically unviable."

Only three weeks ago in parliament, Ms Beckett controversially announced her decision to allow Bayer to go ahead with its maize project. The decision came after 15 years of field trials and four years of farm-scale evaluations.

Ms Beckett told the Commons the GM maize could be grown as soon as next year and said non-GM farmers who suffered financial losses because of crop contamination would be compensated by the industry, not the taxpayer.

At the time, Mr Meacher said: "This is the wrong decision. It is driven by the commercial interests of the big biotech companies and, no doubt, pressure from the White House."