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TITLE:  Growers can exploit GM loophole
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK, by Paul Brown
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,1544733,00.html
DATE:   8 Aug 2005

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


Growers can exploit GM loophole

GM crops can be grown in the UK without farmers having to notify the
authorities or their neighbours, the Guardian has discovered after
testing a loophole which allows enthusiasts to grow their own GM maize.

Supporters of GM crops can legally grow them in Britain by applying to
the biotech company Monsanto for a sample pack of GM maize to test on a
British farm.

When the Guardian put this to the test, Monsanto offered to send a small
quantity free provided the farmer sent the test results and undertook to
protect the company's interest by not breaching patents, for example, by
selling the seed to a third party.

The government admits there is nothing to stop some GM crops being grown
in the UK. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
says no regulations exist to prevent farmers growing GM crops approved
for cultivation elsewhere in the EU because "it seems unlikely that
anyone would want to do so".

The gap in the regulations which would allow Monsanto maize to be grown
in the UK without notifying Defra arises because a number of varieties
were approved for cultivation in the EU in 1998, before public concern
forced governments to rethink their policies.

In the UK, later applications to grow GM sugar beet, oilseed rape and
maize were blocked by the government after protests in which trial plots
were destroyed. Campaigners believed the herbicide sprayed on GM crops
would damage biodiversity and that GM genes would spread to crops,
rendering them unsaleable.

In response, Michael Meacher, then environment minister, devised crop
trials to discover whether the fears of environmentalists were justified.
Two GM crops, oilseed rape and sugar beet, were found to damage the
environment more than their conventional alternative, but GM maize did
not do so. The companies who had applied for a licence to allow these
crops to be sold commercially in this country decided not to proceed.

However, none of this affected the approvals given in 1998 to a large
number of varieties of maize called MON 810, which was developed by
Monsanto to be poisonous to a borer insect which so damaged the plant
that it could render the crop worthless.

There is no regulation which prevents this and other GM seeds approved
for growing elsewhere in the EU from being imported into Britain for
cultivation. A farmer could theoretically feed it to his cattle and no
one would know he had grown it.

Neighbouring farmers, who could face contamination of their crops from
cross-pollination by bees, would have no way of knowing what had happened
unless checks by food companies or the Soil Association revealed GM content.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "At present neither Monsanto nor any farmer
growing the crop is required to inform Defra or anyone else of their
plans to grow one of the varieties of maize MON 810 on the EU common
catalogue of seeds. If the farmer subsequently sells the MON 810 plants
or produce he will have to comply with EU GM traceability and labelling
regulations. There is no requirement to put information on MON 810 on the
public register."

Emily Diamond, of Friends of the Earth, said: "We believed that following
the farm-scale trials that no GM crops were being grown in Britain. Now
we cannot be sure whether they are or not. There are a number of other GM
crops coming up for approval in other EU countries which could be
subsequently imported into the UK without anyone being aware it was
happening."

Environmental groups and farmers are concerned because the government
does not yet have in place legally enforceable regulations on separation
distances between GM and other crops. In addition, the government has to
develop a compensation scheme for farmers whose crops are rendered
unsaleable by contamination from a GM crop.

Tony Combes, a spokesman for Monsanto, said: "Monsanto's long-standing
commitment to openness and transparency means we will always cooperate
with bona fide scientists and often donate seed for research purposes.

"However, this endeavour to obtain MON 810 seeds from Spain (where they
have been successfully planted commercially since 1998) was neither
genuine or even by a research scientist. Also, no research agreement was
completed (this agreement details the research protocols governing a
proposed study and represents a safeguards to ensure GM seeds are not
obtained fraudulently by deception, entrapment and for non-scientific
purposes). These are both sufficient reason why no seeds would have been
sent."


UK history

Late 1980s Laboratories grew first GM seeds in UK

1994 Bio-tech firms planned to put herbicide-tolerant GM oil seed rape on
market

1995 Applications made to sell Herbicide GM maize

1996 Government committee concerned about risks

1999 Bio-tech industry agreed not to market GM seeds until trials complete

2000 First GM trials

2003 Results showed spring-sown GM oil seed rape and sugar beet damaged
biodiversity more than conventional crops. GM maize did less damage

2005 Results confirmed winter GM oil seed rape was worse for environment
than conventional crops

Summer 2005 Government announces plans to consult on separation and legal
framework for growing GM crops




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