The GM Debate.

Contamination from GM crops
threatens the drive to increase organic food production, Michael Meacher, the environment minister, reported recently before leaving the cabinet.
he said"The coexistence of organic and GM crops is a very real problem, whatever decisions the government comes to about the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain, it has to be compatible with allowing the growth of organics."

About 30% of the organic produce consumed in Britain is grown in the U.K. The government wants to increase this to 70% by 2010, and yesterday it issued ithe first progress report on this.

Mr Meacher said Tesco, the UK's largest food retailer, sold organic food worth £250m a year, and plans to sell £1bn a year by 2005/6. All supermarkets in Britain had a no-GM policy. Though consumers might be opposed to GM crops, he added, it was impossible under EU rules for Britain to stop them being grown commercially, unless it found health or environmental evidence they were harmful. Ethical or moral reasons did not count.

This admission has frustrated anti-GM campaigners, weeks before the government- sponsored debate on the growing of GM crops in Britain begins.


" If the UK has no alternative, this debate is pointless", they say. The government has said it will take full account of the views of the Public debate when coming to making a decision.

Mr Meacher said that "the government was waiting for a report from the advisory body, the agriculture and environment biotechnology commission, on how to make combining GM, organic and conventional farming possible".

This included the distance between crops, to avoid cross contamination by pollen, and compensation for farmers whose crops might be made unsaleable as a result of their proximity to GM crops.

The government report on organics has shown that, since 1996, the area had risen from 25,000 hectares to 250,000 last year, although 27% of this was in conversion from conventional crops. Organic farmers had grown from 900 to 4,000 in the same period.

About 4% of agricultural land was organic, and it was a £1bn a year business, Mr Meacher said. The government favoured organic production: it used less energy, caused less pollution to air and water, and less nitrate loss from soil.

september 2003