GENTECH archive 8.96-97
Modified crop licences delayed
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Modified crop licences delayed
Ministers' alarm at genetic food revolution
By David Hencke, Westminster Correspondent
Tuesday December 16, 1997
Licences to allow the first genetically modified crops to be grown in Britain next year are being delayed
because of ministers' fears that Whitehall has underestimated the dangers of the new food revolution.
Two ministers have expressed private doubts about the speed of the revolution and the power it will give to
six chemical companies to dominate the worldwide market, it emerged yesterday - in the week the
Guardian is highlighting the firms' #250 billion gamble on genetically modified food.
Jeff Rooker, minister responsible for food safety, and Lord Donoghue, the farming minister, are understood
to have taken the decision after examining Whitehall briefs on ''herbicide-friendly products.''
They have set up an internal review to examine critically proposals being put forward by Whitehall - and
backed by the previous Tory government - to rush ministers into giving licences to farmers to grow
genetically modified crops.
The first licence to be delayed is certain to be one to grow commercially a genetically engineered oilseed
rape, which was due to be approved in February.
Oil seed rape - the fourth largest commercially grown crop in Britain - is commonly used in margarine and
vegetable oils, and its derivatives are used in cosmetics and detergents.
The genetically modified version makes the plant resistant to glufosinate ammonium, a herbicide. As a
result, it would clear the way for a big increase in herbicide spraying of crops, by allowing use of
non-selective products to kill all the weeds but leave the crop intact. A decision to go ahead would give a
boost to the chemical firm, Hoechst, which manufactures the herbicide.
It is understood that both ministers are sceptical about introducing new products which could allow a big
increase in the use of herbicides. Friends of the Earth last night welcomed the disclosure that ministers
were reviewing the situation. Adrian Bebb, the charity's food and biotechnology campaigner, said: ''We need
a moratorium on licensing these new crops and I am glad ministers are said to be expressing doubts.''
Britain is under pressure from six large international agro-chemical conglomerates, led by the US giant
Monsanto, to grant a wide range of licences for genetically modified crops.
Worldwide lobbying operations in Washington, Brussels and Westminster are pressing civil servants and
bureaucrats to grant early licences so that the companies can benefit from a boom in the new products.
Only two products on sale in British supermarkets have been genetically modified - tomato puree sold by
Safeway and Sainsbury's, and Co-op vegetarian cheese.
The previous government rejected demands for genetically modified food to be labelled after it became
clear that one staple food, soya beans, used in many products was to be marketed worldwide using a
modified bean mixed with unmodified ones.
Copyright Guardian Media Group plc 1997 Modified crop licences delayed