'GM SEED SPREAD' WARNING FROM UK GOVERNMENT'S ADVISERS
"These levels may be logical in the context of food labelling regulations, where a threshold of 1% GM material is currently permitted, but have not been derived from the needs of environmental protection. We recommend that the UK aims for levels of transgenic impurities in conventional seed that are near zero... the levels set in the Commission's proposals are far too high." - English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales (the British Statutory Nature Conservation Agencies)
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'GM seed spread' warning
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
Sunday, 13 October, 2002, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Proposals to change controls on seeds could seriously harm wildlife, say UK Government's advisers.
The proposals, drawn up by the European Commission, would set limits on the genetically-modified (GM) material allowed in conventional seed batches.
The advisers say the limits proposed are far too high and could adversely affect farmland species.
They fear the emergence of GM "super weeds" resistant to normal herbicide doses.
The advisers are the British statutory nature conservation agencies - English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales.
Campaigners from Friends of the Earth (FoE) have obtained a copy of the agencies' response to the draft proposals from Brussels. It expresses concern about the impacts of what is called "gene stacking".
Stacking describes what happens when more than one GM trait is found in the same plant, because of cross-pollination in the field.
The agencies' report says: "The agronomic and ecological impacts of cumulative transgene stacking are poorly understood.
"We are concerned about stacking of herbicide tolerances because this may lead to farmers using more herbicides... potentially resulting in increased damage to biodiversity."
In some circumstances, the report says, this could lead to "the gradual development of weediness in native species".
The European draft proposes allowing conventional oilseed rape seed batches to contain up to 0.3% of GM seeds.
The report says this would mean up to 10,000 GM seeds per hectare could be sown inadvertently.
If a neighbouring farm also unknowingly used GM-contaminated seed, this would be an obvious way for stacking to occur.
Other GM thresholds proposed in the draft are 0.5% for tomatoes, beet, cotton, chicory, maize and potatoes and 0.7% for soya beans.
Above the proposed limits, seed batches would have to be labelled to show they included GM material.
The conservation agencies say: "We see the proposed tolerance thresholds for transgenic impurities... as unacceptable.
"These levels may be logical in the context of food labelling regulations, where a threshold of 1% GM material is currently permitted, but have not been derived from the needs of environmental protection.
"We recommend that the UK aims for levels of transgenic impurities in conventional seed that are near zero... the levels set in the Commission's proposals are far too high."
'Recipe for disaster'
Pete Riley of FoE said: "Allowing GM-contaminated seed to be sold across Europe is a recipe for disaster.
"It will pollute our food and countryside and remove consumer choice. If anything goes wrong with this new technology, the potentially catastrophic consequences will be irreversible."
Mr Riley told BBC News Online: "This is an extremely serious problem which the UK Government and the Commission have to get to grips with.
"It would mean widespread contamination of the British countryside. We have to have a zero threshold for seeds, or else we close off the options for future generations.
"You can get to zero if you have proper quality control, and realistic separation distances between crops. We don't know what 'realistic' means in practice.
"So if we want people to have a choice, and the environment to be protected, banning GM crops in the UK is the only option."
FoE is urging European Union agriculture and environment ministers to
scrap the proposed new seed regulations.
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