22 August 2002
DEAR PROFESSOR MOSES... FROM THE SOIL ASSOCIATION
The Soil Association response below doesn't mention the issue of growers abandoning plans to grow certain crops (eg maize) because of the proximity of GM trials.
Dear Professor Moses,
Thank you for your email asking if any Soil Association certified organic farms in the UK are known to have suffered from GM contamination as a result of the FSEs [GM farmscale trials].
I have consulted with colleagues in our certification subsidiary. As I am sure you know, in aiming to cast a safety net around organic farming in the UK, we have worked to identify the organic farms within 6 miles of every trial site, evaluating the risks of cross contamination (depending on crop, distance and topography), and following up with analysis where appropriate. To date, over the last three years certification has not been withdrawn from any of our licencees.
The answer to your questions is that there is no evidence either way - no evidence of absence of contamination, and no evidence of contamination. This is because of four main factors:
(i) As you may know, it is impossible for anyone except the chemical company concerned to test for the presence of unauthorised GM plants, as the testing protocols will not be available. To test for the presence or absence of GM contamination, the testing company needs to know what GM crops are being grown in the area, so they know what to look for. Recent disclosures of illegal GM crops being used in the FSEs show that it is unlikely that any tests available in the UK could have discovered contamination by these GM crops.
(ii) For most of the period of the trials no organic sugar beet, little or no organic oil seed rape, and little or no organic fodder beet were being grown on a field scale in the UK. Growing organic maize for cattle feed was unusual, but more has been grown in the last couple of years, and the crop looks set to expand in the organic sector. Organic sugar beet growing started last year, following the decision by British Sugar to process some organic beet, and is now expected to expand. There now appears to be growing interest in organic OSR. While the FSEs had opportunities to cross-contaminate conventional sugar beet, OSR and maize, the opportunities to cause similar problems for organic farms were far fewer, both because of the pattern of organic cropping at the time, and because the efforts we and DEFRA made to keep FSEs clear of organic farms had some success. As organic farming expands, in particular as more arable farms respond to Government policy and convert to organic production, and as British Sugar expand organic sugar beet production, the opportunities for cross contamination will increase very substantially.
(iii) Maize for human consumption, and vegetable crops which could cross with OSR, grown by organic gardeners and allotment holders are, of course, widespread throughout the UK, but no or very little data is available on location or crops grown. As far as we know, no organic allotment holders or people with their own organic vegetable gardens, consuming their own produce, have tested their crops for GM contamination, and we would expect such testing to be beyond the financial means of most of those involved.
(iv) No systematic testing of organic crops has been carried out - it is our view that the GM industry should be responsible for paying for such testing, as they have introduced this source of contamination. As you know such testing is expensive, especially if carried out comprehensively enough to guarantee complete absence of contamination. As noted above, it may be impossible to test for illegal or unauthorised GM crop plants. There is, of course, some testing of organic food products by manufacturers and retailers.
Please let me know if we can be of any further help.
May I ask you a question in return? I assume you agree with other spokespeople for the GM industry who have said clearly that contamination of susceptible non-GM crops is inevitable if GM crops are grown commercially? A pro-GM scientist in America recently described this as a 'no brainer'. Is that your view?
Policy Director, Soil Association
Bristol House, 40-56 Victoria Street, Bristol, BS1 6BY
T: 020 7482 3134 Mobile: 0774 0951066
Professor Vivian Moses <V.Moses@qmul.ac.uk>
Subject: Possible threat to organic farmers from GM crops
In the light of the hundreds of GM crop trial sites in the UK during the past three years, as well as the many thousands of acres of Advanta oilseed rape recently mistakenly grown for two successive years, please would you tell me:
1. the number of organic growers in the UK who have lost their Soil Association accreditation as a result of GM content present in their produce;
2. what percentage that number represents of the total number of SoilAssociation accredited organic arable farmers in the UK.
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