From: Mark Graffis <email@example.com>
Subject: Britain Caught Out by Leaked Genetic Food Report
Date: Fri, 14 May 1999 14:31:33 GMT
By Mike Peacock
LONDON - The British government scrambled yesterday to deal with a leaked report which said commercial growing of genetically modified crops would contaminate other foodstuffs over large distances.
A Ministry of Agriculture official said the report had not yet gone to ministers while the John Innes research centre, whose experts compiled the study, said it had been leaked.
Neither would comment on it before publication, due late this month or early in June after the government has digested its contents. But organic farmers were outraged.
Environment Minister Michael Meacher tried to quell the latest fears about GM foods which have become a headache for the government. Public opinion is largely against them but Prime Minister Tony Blair determined that Britain should remain at the forefront of the technology.
"The government is very concerned to preserve the integrity of organic farming," Meacher told BBC radio. "We want to see an increase in organic farming. We want to see proper separation distances. Exactly what they should be is a matter that we are now looking at extremely closely."
The Daily Mail said the John Innes Centre will tell the government that pollen from GM crops can be spread across wide distances by winds and insects.
The paper said the report - "Organic Farming and Gene Transfer from Genetically Modified Crops" - concluded that contamination could not be entirely stopped so acceptable levels would have to be decided upon.
Official GM crop trials operate with only a 200-yard buffer zone. The Soil Association, which regulates organic farming, says a six-mile barrier is the minimum needed to guarantee organic crops are not contaminated.
"We are determined to maintain the purity of organic crops in the UK and this is why we have set ourselves against GM," said the association's Richard Young. "The boundaries between GM crops are totally inadequate to protect organic farmers."
Meacher said the question of whether consumers wanted foods labelled as GM-free to be just that, or whether they may accept a residual amount of modified ingredients amounting to one or two percent, was key.
"If the answer is that people expect it to be virtually nil, that does require considerably greater separation distances," he said. "It is perfectly true that...there are no 'no-fly' zones for bees and they can travel long distances."
English Nature, a government advisory body, has called for a five-year ban on the commercial release of GM crops to allow more research on their environmental impact. But Cabinet Office minister Jack Cunningham has said if all regulatory hurdles were cleared, commercial planting of GM crops could begin next year.
Mad cow disease, the human equivalent of which has claimed about 30 British lives, has made people deeply conscious of food safety and sensitive to stories about "Frankenstein foods". Most supermarkets have already banned GM foods from their stores or, at the very least, clearly labelled them.