GM Potato Trial Cancellation has Wider Implications
Immediate release (14 May 2007)
Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065
GM Freeze welcomed the decision of the biotech company BASF not to proceed with a trial of GM blight resistant potatoes near Hedon in East Yorkshire this year because of concerns of local borage farmers about the availability of bee hives to help pollinate their crop.
The Hedon area is home to three major borage growers who grow the high value crop to produce gamma linoleum acid (GLA) which is used therapeutically for a number of common health conditions. The crop relies on beekeepers to bring in hives of honey bees to ensure a height level of pollination is achieved.
Following the announcement in March 2007 by BASF about the GM potato trial, the beekeepers expressed concerns to the borage farmers about the possible contamination of borage honey with GM pollen and pointed to their industry’s guidance that required hives to be a minimum of 6 miles from the nearest GM site. The owner of the proposed GM site was reported to want the borage farmers concerns had to be dealt with before he finally agreed to the trial going ahead.
Today’s decision not to go ahead with the trial in 2007 by BASF indicates that their attempts to reassure the borage farmers have failed. Defra issued a release consent for the trial today meaning it can go ahead in future years.
The case has wider implications for GM crops. Last year Defra’s consultation on the coexistence of GM, conventional and organic crops did not include beekeepers in the list of people who would be statutorily required to be informed by a farmer intending to commercially grow a GM crop.  The value of pollination services provided to farmers by beekeepers is put at £120 to £200 million per annum. 
Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:
The cancellation of the Hedon GM potato site is warmly welcomed – we could never see the point of allowing this commercial development trial to go ahead when we already have a growing number of blight resistant potato varieties produced by conventional plant breeding. Consumers don’t want GM potatoes and the potato processors have said they will not use them. We hope this is the end of GM trialling in Hedon and the rest of the UK.
The impact of the trials on honey and beekeepers has been central to the cancellation. If any GM crops are ever approved for commercial growing in the UK this type of problem could become common place. Defra have repeatedly tried to ignore the impact of GM crops on beekeepers and the potential economic impacts but at Hedon they have been stung. The economic and agricultural importance of honey bees can no longer by sidelined by Defra’s GM policies. Ministers need to learn the lesson of the debacle over the Hedon site and protect beepers from GM contamination in the future.
Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065.
1. See www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/gmnongm-coexist/consultdoc.pdf
2. Parliamentary Answer from Ian Pearson to Joan Ruddock MP 3 May 2007 House of Commons Hansard Column 1792