Brussels clears way for planting of GM crops

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Governments will not be able to bar farmers from planting genetically modified crops, the European Commission said yesterday, announcing guidelines on how they can be cultivated safely.

Franz Fischler, the EU agriculture commissioner, said neighbouring farmers could club together to declare their land "GM-free", but added: "It is not possible for regions or national governments to introduce GM-free zones."

Governments can set national regulations on how to separate GM and conventional crops, but Mr Fischler warned that the application of over-rigorous laws would lead to court action. He said: "If people go over the top to bring in a GMO-free area by the backdoor this would be a question for the [European] Court of Justice. This is something I certainly could not preclude."

Environmental groups say that, by leaving the fine print of rules to national governments, several will manage to create a GM-free space. Yesterday's publication of guidelines follows agreement on new legislation on traceability and labelling of GM products. It is part of a push to end a moratorium on new GM licences, which has lasted more than four years.

Mr Fischler's guidelines include keeping safe distances between fields - distinguishing between crops that cross-pollinate and those that do not - introducing pollen barriers such as hedges, careful handling of seeds, cleaning of farm machinery and use of low-pollen varieties.

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