MPs urge ban on GM maize pending further tests

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The Independent Online

The Government was today urged by a powerful all-party committee of MPs not to give the go-ahead to commercial planting of GM maize until more testing has been carried out.

The Government was today urged by a powerful all-party committee of MPs not to give the go-ahead to commercial planting of GM maize until more testing has been carried out.

A hard hitting report unanimously agreed by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee into three-year farm scale trials of the controversial crops underlines their deep concerns and casts doubt on the validity of the tests.

The MPs say they are concerned that the GM herbicide tolerant forage maize trials "were based on unsatisfactory, indeed invalid comparison".

The report adds: "It is vital that the Government permit no commercial planting of GMHT forage maize until that crop is thoroughly re-trialled against a non-GM equivalent grown without the use of (pesticide) atrazine."

The MPs say it is "inconceivable" that beet or spring sown oilseed rape will be given consents to be grown if managed under the same regime as applied in the field scale trials.

The MPs' recommendations will be a blow to the Government if, as forecast, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett is expected to give the green light next week to GM maize cultivation for animal feed.

However a positive decision next week will not give an immediate go-ahead to commercial growing in the UK as all applications for planting GM seeds must be approved by the European Union in Brussels.

The committee says: "We are very concerned about possible contamination by gene-flow and pollen spread of non GM-crops and insist that the issue of liability be settled before any GM crops are allowed to be commercially grown in the UK.

"We recommend that future GM crop assessments of biodiversity impact should be no shorter than four years.

"No decision to proceed with the commercial growing of GM crops should be made until thorough research into the experience with GM crops in north America has been completed and published.

"We recommend that in future trials the biodiversity benchmark against which GM crops should be assessed should be that associated with the less intensive and more biodiversity friendly end of the spectrum found in UK agriculture, such as organic crops.

"The scope of the trials was very narrow and the results cannot be regarded as adequate grounds for a decision to be taken in favour of commercialisation.

"It would be irresponsible of the Government to permit the commercialisation of GM crops on the basis of one narrow component of the entire evaluation of GM technology.

"This would be the case even were there no significant doubts as to the robustness, validity and relevance of the field scale results."

Committee chairman, Conservative MP Peter Ainsworth, said: "Leaked minutes from a Cabinet sub-committee suggest that a decision to open the door to the commercial growing of GM crops is imminent.

"As our report makes clear, any such decision would be irresponsible in the light of the evidence available from the trials.

"No substantive ministerial announcements should be made until the Government has formally responded to the issues raised in this Report. I am writing to the Secretary of State today to emphasise the point."

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said: "First the public and the market place rejected GM crops and now Parliament has too.

"The Government seem hell bent on pushing GM crops, whatever scientific, economic, environmental and food safety facts are set out by scientists, their own advisory committees and now Parliament.

"This is a black day for British agriculture. The Government is jeopardising the future integrity, safety and economic viability of British farming and food."

Shadow Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food John Whittingdale said: "This report raises serious concerns about the validity of the GM crop trials that have taken place.

"In particular, the committee has produced evidence that the trials were both too short and too narrowly based to be able to conclude that GM crops can be commercially grown without risk.

"The Government must address the real concerns raised by this report before any further decision is announced about commercial planting.

"Until the consumer can be satisfied that the production of GM crops is based on sound and thorough research and that a clear framework which tackles liability, contamination and separation is in place, no approvals for commercial plantings should be given."