GM food advisers shake-up planned

SWEEPING CHANGES to the controversial committee that approves trials of genetically modified (GM) crops are being planned by the Environment minister, Michael Meacher.

Wildlife specialists are to be brought on to Acre, the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, which has been accused of bias by green campaigners because most of its 13 members have links with the biotechnology industry.

The new committee members will address the fear that has prompted English Nature, the Government's conservation advisers, to call for a three-year moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops. It is concerned the increased use of pesticides that such transgenic plants allow will devastate insect, plant and bird life.

Many GM crops are now being designed to be tolerant of extremely powerful insecticides and herbicides, the use of which is likely to eliminate all wildlife besides the crops themselves, leaving the fields as "green concrete".

At the moment consideration of these possible side-effects is not part of Acre's remit and the committee does not contain an expert on farmland wildlife.

It does, however, have at least seven members with direct links to the genetic engineering industry, and has so far given permission to test GM crops at more than 500 trial sites around the country - and never recommended a refusal.

But nine committee members, including the chairman, Professor John Beringer of Bristol University, will step down later this year after serving two three-year terms. Mr Meacher, the minister responsible for Acre who is known to share English Nature's concerns, plans to appoint three ecologists or experts on farmland biodiversity.

"I don't want to criticise Acre or suggest that they have not been rigorous under their present remit," Mr Meacher said yesterday, "but their present brief does not include the cumulative, indirect, long-term effects of GM crops on the environment, and the membership has excluded farmland biodiversity and ecological matters. On the new body we will be having people who do have that expertise."

"Any change to Acre is welcome," Adrian Bebb, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said last night. "It has too many links to the biotech industry and it certainly appears to the public to be biased. This might be the beginning of a better balance.

Donald Macintyre,

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