ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

17 August 2002


"The trials for GM crops are coming to an end. This will be the moment for the Government to concede that it has followed a mistaken policy on GM crops. The time has come to abandon plans to grow genetically modified food in this country." - Leader, Independent on Sunday, 18 August 2002

1. Labour must concede there is no case for GM crops
2. More GM crop trials break test guidelines


1. Labour must concede there is no case for GM crops

Leading Article
Independent on Sunday, 18 August 2002

Just what will it take to persuade the Government that it is disastrously wrong over genetically modified crops and foods? Scarcely a week goes by without devastating new evidence emerging of threats to health and the environment, or without the disclosure of breathtaking bungles by the GM companies or the regulatory authorities. Last week alone two powerful new studies showed that genes from the crops are escaping to create "superweeds", and "a very serious breach of regulations" emerged when unauthorised GM seeds were sown in field trials in each of the past three years. Today we report another alarming development in the controversial trials, where stubble from GM oilseed rape sprouted again and flowered on four test sites. Yet Mr Blair and his ministers continue with plans to foist the technology on a hostile public.

Every assurance trotted out by the industry, and its fans in the Government, now lies in ruins. They said that the technology would not create superweeds: but report after report shows that they are emerging where GM crops are grown widely and are "inevitable" here if commercial cultivation begins. They said that GM and organic agriculture could coexist; but a massive EU study - which Brussels tried to restrict to "internal use only" - shows that the hugely popular chemical-free farming would be forced out of business by GM contamination.

They said the technology would feed the Third World; but last week Zambia, in the midst of the southern African famine, has refused to take GM food aid, on the grounds that it is too dangerous. And they said it posed no danger to health: but even the strongly pro-GM Royal Society now admits there could be hazards in future. Last month research found that GM genes could transfer from food to bacteria in the gut of people who eat it - just a few weeks after the scientific establishment roundly condemned the powerful BBC drama Fields of Gold for suggesting something similar.

The latest revelations of the bungled trials may be the most alarming of all, because they explode official assurances about the effectiveness of Britain's regulatory system. Ministers are fond of saying that it is the most rigorous in the world. If that is true we really should be worried. The GM inspectorate failed to spot the sowing of the unauthorised seeds over three years; it came to light only when the company responsible, Aventis, came clean. And both the inspectorate and Aventis were ignorant of the reflowering stubble: they were informed about it by Friends of the Earth after a local farmer contacted the group. Controls on GM foods are even more scandalously perfunctory; products are just waved through as safe on the assumption that they are "substantially equivalent" to their conventional counterparts.

Senior sources admit privately that the Government's GM policies are the most unpopular in its portfolio. But ministers press on regardless. It is an extraordinary situation for a government normally so sensitive to public opinion, and one that testifies to the Prime Minister's personal obsession with the technology. Sooner or later, it will have to change.

The trials for GM crops are coming to an end. This will be the moment for the Government to concede that it has followed a mistaken policy on GM crops. The time has come to abandon plans to grow genetically modified food in this country.


2. More GM crop trials break test guidelines

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor,
Independent on Sunday, 18 August 2002

Four more of the Government's troubled GM trials have gone alarmingly wrong, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

In a bizarre development, the stubble of harvested GM oilseed rape resprouted late last autumn, putting out new flowers in November - according to an as yet unpublished official investigation.

Neither the Government's regulators nor Aventis, the GM company conducting the trials, spotted the reflowering of the rape, which spread modified pollen in four separate counties. It only came to light when a farmer near one of the sites notified Friends of the Earth.

The revelation follows last week's disclosure that Aventis has sown unauthorised seed, carrying controversial antibiotic genes, at 23 sites in England and Scotland, in what the Government admits was "a very serious breach" of GM regulations.

Ministers have suspended the final phase of the trials, which were due to start next week, and the company may be prosecuted; senior executives could face five years in jail and unlimited fines. Again, the inspectorate was ignorant of the breach; officials first found out about it when the company told them about it.

News of the reflowering rape will further undermine confidence in the company and the inspectorate, and cast even more doubt on the trails, which the Government had been planning to use to justify a decision to grow the crops commercially next year.

Yesterday, Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said: "If a GM company and the regulatory authorities cannot run a test site properly, how can we trust them to ensure that commercial crops are grown properly in Britain?"

The report, by the GM inspectorate, dated 22 May, says that the reflowering rape was found last winter at trial sites at Witham on the Hill in Lincolnshire, Brind in North Yorkshire, Winfarthing in Norfolk, and Wormington in Gloucestershire.

Aventis was bound by strict conditions to stop the rape flowering again. But these only covered the danger of flowers appearing on new plants seeded from the harvested crop, as no one foresaw that the rape could resprout.

The inspectorate therefore concluded that Aventis had not breached its conditions, though senior officials admit that this amounted to letting it off on a "technicality".

Paul Rylott, head of bioscience at Aventis said that the company had implemented recommendations by the inspectorate to prevent the problem happening again.
"They canét even run a test site, so how can we trust these companies to produce our food?"
Adrian Bebb, a food campaigner for Friends of the Earth quoted in  The Times, August 17, 2002 (GM seed blunder deepens public doubts),,2-385861,00.html

ngin bulletin archive