Moratorium sought for GM foods

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The Independent Online
GREEN GROUPS yesterday renewed their calls on the Government to impose a moratorium on the commercial release of genetically modified (GM) foods after a new report said the crops posed a serious threat to the environment.

The controversy resurfaced when it emerged that a key government report has warned that widespread planting of GM crops could endanger the country's wildlife and indigenous plants.

The report, commissioned jointly by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture, found that there are insufficient safeguards to prevent the creation of "Frankenstein" multi-resistant plants.

It calls for the creation of a new watchdog, comprising scientists, environmentalists and farmers, to oversee the development of GM products.

The report, written by civil servants, also states that pesticides are likely to be much more widespread if GM crops are commercially exploited.

The report was commissioned earlier this year following complaints that the public was not being informed about the effects of the scientific developments pioneered by the US bio-technology giant, Monsanto.

Some ministerial sources claimed that the study had been kept secret because of its alarming conclusions, though both departments claimed yesterday its publication would proceed as normal.

Fears about the commercial release of GM crops will be heightened this week when the Health and Safety Executive is expected to announce that it will prosecute Monsanto for breaches of regulations covering crop trials.

More than one in 10 of the company's restricted sites has allegedly breached the rules.

The Government has so far agreed that more planting of GM crops will go ahead next year, as long as there are strict controls over their use.

However, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said yesterday that the secret report proved that a moratorium should be imposed.

The society's spokesman, Blake Lee-Harwood, said yesterday: "Our view is that we don't have a principled objection to GM organisms but given the inevitable hazards that may be attendant, we want to see a moratorium placed on their commercial release to ensure that there is full and fair testing."

A spokeswoman for MAFF said that the report would be published as planned.

However, it was currently being considered by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (Acre), the Government's specialist advisory body.

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