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Environment Groups Condemn UK Government GM Crop Plan for England Paterson’s plans to plant Roundup Ready GM crops in England condemned

Immediate release (10 Mar 2014)

Press contacts: Dr Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK Director: office 01298 24300, mobile 07903 311 584; Liz O’Neill, GM Freeze Director: 0845 217 8992, email liz@gmfreeze.org; Peter Melchett, Soil Association Policy Director: 07740 951 066 Sarah Weston, Soil Association Press Office Manager: office 01179 142 448, mobile 07827 925 380 Vicki Hird, Friends of the Earth Senior Campaigner: office 020 7566 4070, mobile 07903 478 249; Greenpeace UK Press office: 0207 865 8255

Environment groups today wrote to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to condemn Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s support for growing GM crops in Britain. [1] Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, GeneWatch UK, GM Freeze and the Soil Association expressed concerns that controversial Roundup Ready GM crops might be planted in England as early as Spring 2015, leading to harm to the environment.

At the EU’s March Environment Council meeting Paterson supported a proposal that would fast-track GM crops for commercial cultivation in pro-GM countries, while allowing anti-GM countries to opt out. [2] The first GM crops in the pipeline for approval that are likely to be grown in England are Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM maize NK603 and Syngenta’s GA21. These crops are genetically engineered to withstand blanket spraying with the weedkiller glyphosate (brand name Roundup). Monsanto has not withdrawn its application to plant NK603 in the EU, despite announcing in July 2013 that it would do so. [3]

Previous plans to grow herbicide-tolerant GM crops commercially in the UK were abandoned in 2004 following the Farm Scale Evaluations, which showed that blanket spraying with weedkillers destroys important habitats for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. [4] These concerns have been borne out in reality in the United States, where widespread planting of Roundup Ready crops has led to a drastic decline in numbers of the iconic Monarch butterfly due to the destruction of the milkweed habitat where they lay their eggs. [5] ‘Superweeds’, which have evolved resistance to Roundup, adversely affected nearly half of US farms surveyed in 2013, leading to major economic and environmental problems as spraying with other more toxic weedkillers has increased in response. [6] Monopoly control over the seed supply, which is patented, has also led to major seed price hikes for farmers.

Monsanto and other GM companies are desperate to push their GM crops into other countries before the devastating impacts on wildlife and farming destroy existing markets,” said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. “The Government should not be caving in to commercial lobbying and putting British birds and butterflies at risk.

The Soil Association hopes that David Cameron does not want to be remembered as the Prime Minister responsible for the beginning of the end of organic farming in England. If GM crops spread, GM contamination will make organic farming impossible, and our growing organic market will have to be supplied with imported food,” said Peter Melchett, Soil Association Policy Director.

British consumers don’t want to eat GM food and both Scottish and Welsh governments have made it clear they are opposed to GM crops. So why are our representatives in Westminster doing their level best to hand over control of our food and our natural environment to big business?” asked Liz O’Neill, Director of GM Freeze.

Ten years ago the UK Government reviewed the scientific, environmental and economic impacts of GM crops and food, and concluded they offered little benefit to the UK. Despite much huffing and puffing from its advocates, little has changed and the propositions on offer from the biotech industry are largely the same as they were. But the UK Government is so in thrall to industry hype that they want to deconstruct the EU single market – previously the only thing about Europe they wanted to keep – in order to grow GM crops that nobody wants,” said Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist, Greenpeace UK.

Notes for Editors

[1] Joint letters, 10 March 2014. “Commercial cultivation of Roundup Ready GM crops in England”. To the Prime Minister, to the Deputy Prime Minister

[2] Legal grounds for opt-outs remain weak. See Food Navigator, 4 March 2014. “Draft law to ban GM cultivation in EU countries is legally flawed, says Greenpeace”.

[3] Farmers Weekly, 3 September 2013. “Monsanto begins GM seeds retreat in EU

[4] Squire GR, Brooks DR, Bohan DA, et al, 2003. “On the rationale and interpretation of the Farm Scale Evaluations of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops”. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 358(1439):1779–1799

[5] Pleasants JM, Oberhauser KS, 2013. “Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population”. Insect Conservation and Diversity 6(2):135–144

[6] Fraser K, 25 January 2013. “Glyphosate Resistant Weeds – Intensifying”. Stratus Research

and

Benbrook CM, 2012. “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the US – The first sixteen years”. Environmental Sciences Europe 24(1):24

and

Reuters, 24 February 2014. “US GMO crops show mix of benefits, concerns – USDA report