A five-point Emergency Response Plan has been formulated by the European Commission, designed to cope if genetically modified plants result in widespread illness or the death of wildlife.
The draft directive, set to be adopted by ministers across Europe, includes plans to "decontaminate" affected areas and destroy plants and animals exposed to GMOs. The plan is designed to prevent a human health disaster and stop genetically modified plants breeding wildly with native species
The proposed five-point plans are similar to those used in the case of accidental nuclear leaks and will be a requirement of any new application to release genetically modified organisms once the law comes into force.
So a company wishing to plant GM seeds in Britain will have to present a detailed strategy for coping with a disaster. This must include:
1. Methods and procedures for controlling the GMOs in case of unexpected spread;
2. Methods for decontamination of the areas affected, e.g. eradication of the GMOs;
3. Methods for disposal or sanitation of plants, animals, soils, etc. that were exposed during or after the spread;
4. Methods for the isolation of the area affected by the spread;
5. Plans for protecting human health and the environment in case of the occurrence of an undesirable effect.
"The case for the need for these crops has not been thought out, but governments are already gearing up for emergency decontamination operations," said Tony Juniper, campaigns and policy director of Friends of the Earth. "This is redolent of a 1960s nuclear civil defence plan."
The new directive will amend the current EU law on genetically modified crops. The proposed changes, which have Government backing, will be discussed by European environment ministers in June, but could take years to implement.
"Ministers are clearly fore-seeing major problems with GMOs, or they wouldn't be considering these action plans," said Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokes-man. "With large farm-scale trials in the UK only days away'', contingency plans were "a matter of urgency", he said.