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GE - Govt advice on ge contamination challenged by new independent report


EMBARGOED UNTIL: 0001hrs Tuesday 2 March 1999

Government advice on genetic contamination challenged by new independent

Evidence that pollen from genetically modified crops can cause contamination
over considerable distances has emerged in a new report. 
‘The Dispersal of Maize Pollen’ by Dr Jean Emberlin, Director of the National
Pollen Research Unit (1), was commissioned by the Soil Association to
hard scientific data on the risks posed to the integrity of organically grown
maize and sweetcorn from cross-pollination by genetically modified crops.

Last summer Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, refused to order the
destruction of a crop of genetically modified (GM) maize bordering a Soil
Association registered organic farm in Devon and claimed that “there were no
grounds for halting the field trials as it will not interfere with the
sweetcorn crop being grown on a nearby farm”(2). The Soil Association
regrettably had to inform the farmer that the organic status of his sweetcorn
would have to be removed if there was any evidence of contamination from
the GM

The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), the Government’s
statutory advisors on the release of genetically engineered crops into the
environment, stated that “at a standard separation distance of 200 metres
between the organic sweetcorn and the GM maize the likely cross-pollination
frequency would result in no greater than 1 sweetcorn kernel in every 40,000
being a GM hybrid”(5). However, Dr Jean Emberlin, having looked at all the
research available, concluded that “in conditions of moderate wind speeds the
rates of cross-pollination at 200 metres would be in the order of 1 kernel in

Evidence is cited in Dr Emberlin’s report that maize pollen is collected by
bees in notable amounts. In this way the pollen is transported several miles
from the crop plot in suitable weather conditions. In the case of the organic
farmer in Devon, ACRE failed even to consider cross-pollination of the organic
sweetcorn by bees, even though there are several hives adjacent to the test

ACRE also brushed aside concerns about freak weather conditions by saying that
”this was generally taken into account with seed certification standards and
there was at least 200 metres from the nearest GM maize to the organic

However the report states that: “Substantial evidence exists for long range
transport of considerable numbers of pollen grains….Maize pollen remains
under normal conditions for approximately 24 hours giving potential for
pollination by grains that had travelled many hundreds of kilometres on the
airflow….Overall it is clear that the maize pollen spreads far beyond the 200
metres cited in several reports as being an acceptable separation distance to
prevent cross-pollination.”

This new report undermines confidence in the advice given to the Government by
ACRE who have so far given permission to trial GE crops at over 500 sites
around the country. At least 8 members of ACRE have direct links with biotech
research, and 6 members are involved with companies that have been given
permission by ACRE to conduct these trials. The Soil Association believes that
the apparent failure of ACRE to give impartial advice on the likelihood of
cross-pollination threatens to remove choice from those who want to avoid GM

Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, has recently stated that ”The Government is
absolutely committed to making sure that those who do not want to eat crops
that have been cross-contaminated (with GMO ingredients), or to have their
cross-contaminated (with GMO pollen), have their rights in this protected as

Food Safety Minster, Jeff Rooker, has also repeated this promise, “The
Government is about in April to double the aid to persuade farmers to convert
to organic production. We’re not going to allow that public money to be put at
risk by a cross-contamination of GM crops when they are grown.”(8)

The Soil Association is calling on the Government to honour these pledges and
provide a response to this report with the utmost urgency in order to avoid
potential cross-pollination from GE trial plots due to be planted in 1999. 

The Soil Association believes that it is not good enough for the biotech
industry to be allowed to introduce these crops under a voluntary code of
practice that fails to take cross-pollination of organic crops into

Patrick Holden, Soil Association Director, said, “The only way that the
Government can fulfil its promise to protect organic farmers (and indeed
conventional farmers) who wish to provide a GM-free choice for consumers is
through a ban on the growing of genetically engineered maize. This report
demonstrates that farmers who are attempting to grow GM-free crops will
find it
increasingly difficult to supply consumers with the GM-free food products that
they are demanding.” 


Notes to Editors: 
(1) The report entitled ‘The Dispersal of Maize Pollen’ was commissioned by
Soil Association and written by Dr Jean Emberlin of the National Pollen
Research Unit.

(2) DETR Press Release 559, 3 July 1998

(3) Three weeks ago an organic wholesaler had to destroy 87,000 packets of
organic Tortilla chips from the US worth over 100,000 pounds sterling when it
was discovered that they had been contaminated by GM maize, most likely

(4) The UKROFS Board have agreed that organic producers and consumers have the
right to expect Government to take adequate measures to ensure that no
GM-contamination of organic crops and foods occur.

(5) DETR Press Release 559, 3 July 1998

(6) Minutes from ACRE meeting June 1998 item 1.1 - GM maize in National List
trials adjacent to an organic farm in Devon  ACRE\98\P25. 

(7) The Jonathan Dimbleby programme 31 January 1999

(8) The Jonathan Dimbleby programme 21 February 1999

(9) Under the SCIMAC (An initiative of biotech companies, given the role by
Government of policing and monitoring the release of genetically modified
organisms into the environment) code of practice, there is no protection for
organic farmers.

For further information please contact:

Dr Jean Emberlin 01905 748066 
National Pollen Research Unit

Patrick Holden 0117 9142443 
Director, Soil Association

Harry Hadaway 0117 9142449 
Soil Association, Campaigns Office