GM legal loophole exposed

Related tags Gm Maize

GM crops could be grown in the UK without farmers having to notify
the authorities, according to a British newspaper.

The Guardian claims that it has discovered a legal loophole that allows individuals to legally grow their own GM maize.

Farmers can apply to biotech companies for a sample pack of GM maize, provided they send back the test results and do not breach patents by selling the seed to a third party.

In effect, this would allow Monsanto maize to be grown in the UK without the need to notify the department of environment, food and rural affairs (Defra).

There remains a great deal of public opposition to genetically modified foods in Europe, a fact that has made food ingredients companies highly concerned about any possible contamination.

This led to the EU imposing a ban on approving any new GM crops from 1998 to 2004. Tough new rules on GM ingredient food labelling imposed last year have since cleared a way to end the ban, with a couple of new approvals already passed into the Official Journal.

To date, only two crops, Bt11 sweetcorn from Swiss agrochemicals firm Syngenta whose approval broke the EU ban, and NK603 maize designed by biotech giant Monsanto, have been approved under regulation (EC) No 97/258 on novel foods, in May and October 2004 respectively.

Critics of GM foods argued that Brussels caved into pressure from the US, the number one exporter of GM food crops. Brussels, in response, affirmed tough new laws on GM foodstuff labelling in Europe, some of the most stringent in the world.

But the loophole identified by The Guardian​ could send worrying signals to anti-GMO campaigners. The paper says that this particular situation has arisen because a number of GM varieties were approved for cultivation in the EU in 1998, before public concern forced governments to rethink their policies.

In response to these concerns, Michael Meacher, then environment minister, devised crop trials to discover whether the fears of environmentalists were justified. Two GM crops, oilseed rape and sugar beet, were found to damage the environment more than their conventional alternative, but GM maize did not do so.

The companies who had applied for a licence to allow these crops to be sold commercially in this country decided not to proceed. However, none of this affected the approvals given in 1998 to a large number of varieties of maize called MON 810, developed by Monsanto.

According to the paper, there is therefore no regulation that prevents this and other GM seeds approved for growing elsewhere in the EU from being imported into Britain for cultivation.

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