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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Government Backs High Security GM Test Sites

Immediate release (15 Jun 2011)

The Coalition Government has today put its support behind conducting GM field trials on high security sites.

In their response to a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Report [1], the Government rejected the proposal to keep the location of GM sites secret but stated, “Government is ready to facilitate the hosting of any trials at suitable sites that could provide greater security than might otherwise be the case.”

Despite restating commitment to “clear GM labelling rules”, the Government response makes no commitment to telling consumers which animal foods come from livestock fed a non-GM diet.

Industry claims that direct action is impeding research have been challenged by GM Freeze. [2] The group points to other important reasons that GM test sites were not required and have led to decline in test site numbers in the last decade namely:

  • GM herbicide tolerant oilseed rape and beet were not approved because of evidence of long-term harm to farmland wildlife.
  • There is no market for GM ingredients in food because most supermarkets and manufacturers maintain a ban GM ingredients and the public rejects GM animal feed [3].
  • Monsanto abandoned plans for GM cereals because of lack of EU markets demonstrated by public rejection of GM products.
  • Bayer CropScience halted work on GM maize even after being given approval by the UK government.
  • The biotech industry has not come forward with any insect resistant crops that would find a market in the UK because pest levels do not merit them.
  • Modern applications of traditional plant breeding are progressing and producing good quality crop varieties without resorting to GM (eg, marker assisted selection, or MAS), a point acknowledged in the Government response.
  • All GM seed varieties that had been entered for National Listing were voluntarily withdrawn by the applicants because of lack of market demand.
  • The National Assembly Government of Wales the Scottish Government are strongly opposed to GM crops on the grounds that they do not fit with the model for developing farming in the two countries, and no test site applications have been made.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

Local communities will not welcome the Government imposing an outdoor GM test facility on them. There would have to be several sites around the country to account for different soils and climatic conditions across the UK, and we would expect there to be serious opposition from local residents worried about pollen escaping from the GM crops and contaminating neighbouring non-GM crops and honey. We see no reason for further crop testing while there are so many unresolved problems associated with GM, not least of which are food and environmental safety, contamination prevention and liability for any harm.

Elsewhere in their response to the Common’s Committee, the Government suggests that other approaches to plant breeding offer new opportunities:

Considerable progress has also been made in recent years in the development of gene sequencing technology, or ‘genomics’ much of it resulting from research initially funded by BBSRC at Cambridge University and this is enabling gene marker technology to identify those plants with the desired characteristics in conventional breeding programmes.

However they maintain that public money should be spent on GM research because, “GM research could offer a range of benefits over the longer term.” GM Freeze questions why public money should be spent on a technology that is failing to deliver on its promises when other options work better and the money is needed elsewhere.

The group believes that the stated strong Government support labelling – “Consumers need to be able to exercise choice through clear GM labelling rules and the provision of accessible and reliable information.” – must be translated urgently into clear labelling on foods from animals fed a GM-free diet, along the lines of the highly successful government schemes already operating in Austria, German and France. There is overwhelming public support for clear labelling of GM –fed animal products. [3]

Summing up Pete Riley said:

There is no demand for GM food, and therefore it is no surprise that companies have stopped testing GM crops in the UK. We question why public money should be spent on a technology that is failing to deliver on its promises when other options work better and the money is needed elsewhere.

We very much welcome the commitment to labelling and look forward to clear labels to tell consumers which foods come from animals fed a GM-free diet. The traceability systems are already in place to allow it to happen. We say please get on with it.

ENDs

Notes

[1] See Science and Technology Committee – Fifth Special Report Bioengineering: Government Response to the Committee’s Seventh Report of Session 2009-10 at www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmsctech/1138/113802.htm

[2] See Why Transparency is Essential for GM Test Sites by GM Freeze

[3] See GM is unwanted at www.gmfreeze.org