Official data reveals GM crop risks

THE GOVERNMENT will be forced into an embarrassing retreat on genetically modified crops today when its own research concludes that there is a "real risk" of contamination of other plants.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will publish a long-awaited report that will produce evidence of "transgenic pollution" from GM crops to neighbouring fields. The report, commissioned by Maff from the highly respected John Innes Centre, represents the most convincing research to date that seeds from modified plants can cross-pollinate.

Organic farmers have complained bitterly that their crops are at risk of contamination from pollen carried by the wind or by bees.

Ministers will announce an overhaul of guidelines issued to the biotechnology industry on safe planting distances from GM crops.

The Government will have "no option" but to increase the distances, currently set at 200 metres, ministerial sources have told The Independent.

Maff will invite organic groups and environmentalists, as well as biotech firms involved in farm-scale trials across the country, into talks to reset the guidelines in the light of the research.

The farm-scale plantings are covered by voluntary guidelines issued by the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (Scimac), a body that regulates the industry.

Pressure on the Government will increase this week when the Soil Association issues strict new guidelines on planting distances to its own organic farmers. The Association will tell its members that it intends to withdraw its certification if regular checks on crops find evidence of cross- contamination.

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, gave a cautious welcome last night to the suggestion that ministers were preparing to revise the guidelines. "We are pleased that the Government is prepared to have an open mind. If they want to increase the distances, we are very happy to talk to them," he said. "It's not too late to stop genetic pollution, but the Government has so far shown a massive abdication of responsibility on the issue and left us to police this. That has to change."

One organic farmer who had taken part in the farm-scale GM trials decided to burn the crops after the Soil Association threatened to withdraw certification. His organic beans had been just six metres away from GM crops.

The Government was yesterday forced on to the defensive when it emerged that there had been more than 100 meetings between ministries and biotech firms since it took power in 1997.

The John Innes Centre in Norwich is Europe's leading academic establishment examining GM foods. Its report accepts the premise that pollen from GM crops will be spread long distances by the wind and insects. Its results represent the first official backing for an earlier study by the National Pollen Research Unit on the threat of GM pollen and seeds contaminating organic farms many miles away.

Research by the Soil Association earlier this year showed that more than 80 per cent of rape seed pollen is carried by bees and bees can travel more than three miles. Wind can transport it by much further.

Both Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, and Elliot Morley, the Countryside minister, are understood to be in favour of giving greater support to organic farmers.

Tony Blair has repeatedly warned against "media hysteria" over the issue, but ministers unveiled new advisory bodies on GM last month in an attempt to calm public fears about the technology.

The Government will rule out as impractical calls for a six-mile "buffer zone" around every GM trial, but the organic lobby insists that it wants the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions to warn all organic farmers within the distance before any licence for trials is granted.

The John Innes report is understood to have found that one per cent of organic plants in any field could become GM hybrids because of the pollen spread. It concludes that contamination by either seed or pollen cannot be "entirely eliminated".

The Soil Association's tough certification procedures mean that scores of farmers could be put out of business if they fail to clear themselves as GM-free.

One senior government adviser said last night: "If this research shows that there is a risk, then ministers will have to respond positively to it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there