Planting of GM crops to be halted

GENETICALLY MODIFIED crops will not be grown commercially until the Government is satisfied their management does not harm farmland wildlife, the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said.

Commercial planting will not be allowed until enough data have been gathered. The assurance, amounting to an indefinite moratorium, will go some way to meeting concerns of the Government's wildlife advisers, English Nature, that the countryside may be devastated by new weedkillers which most of the crops are being designed to accommodate.

English Nature and its sister agencies in Wales and Scotland have called for a three-to-five-year moratorium on commercial plantings until research on the new weedkillers, and the possible transpollination effect on wild plants of the GM crops, has been carried out. Tony Blair has publicly rejected the moratorium call.

Mr Meacher said yesterday: "We need the accurate, scientifically based data on which we can make the judgment that the sowing of GM crops and the use of their accompanying herbicides does not cause significant damage to the environment."

His comments came as the Government took the unprecedented step of issuing all its MPs with a "fact-pack" signed by five ministers and designed to quell fears over GM crops.

It illustrates the depth of government anxiety over the issue. "The Government recognises there is public concern about genetic modification. It is a fast-moving science and we accept we do not always have all the answers. We want to understand people's views," the letter said.

At present the Government has agreed a voluntary moratorium on commercial GM plantings with the biotechnology industry until spring 2000. Yesterday both English Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said that that this would not nearly be long enough for proper test data to be gathered.

Two farms are being used this summer to test the large-scale environmental effects of growing oilseed rape genetically modified to be herbicide-tolerant, which is first in the queue for commercial growth in the UK.

But Mr Meacher said that if not enough data had been collected by next spring, he would go back to the biotechnology companies and explain that more time was needed.

In the light of current publicity, he said, he would expect them to co- operate, but hinted that if they did not, the Government would force them to.

Although Monsanto and Zeneca, two of the biggest biotechnology companies, said on Wednesday that they would fight, in the European Court, any enforced delay on commercial plantings, Article 16 of the European Union directive regulating GM crop plantings gives the Government power to stop them and revoke licences already given, if new information is discovered that they may be harmful to the environment.

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