Wednesday, 23 March 2005

The End For GM Crops In Britain

Final British Trial Confirms Threat To Wildlife

Yet another nail was hammered into the coffin of the GM food industry in Britain yesterday when the final trial of a four-year series of experiments found, once more, that genetically modified crops can be harmful to wildlife.

The study was the fourth in a series that has, in effect, sealed the fate of GM in the UK - at least in the foreseeable future. They showed the ultra-powerful weedkillers that the crops are engineered to tolerate would bring about further damage to a countryside already devastated by intensive farming.

Only one of the four farm-scale trials, which have gone on for nearly five years, showed that growing GM crops might be less harmful to birds, flowers and insects than the non-GM equivalent - and even that was attacked as flawed, because the weedkiller the particular conventional crop required was so destructive it was about to be banned by the EU.

Even so, a year ago the Government gave a licence for that crop - a maize known as Chardon LL, created by the German chemical group Bayer - to be grown in Britain, thus officially opening the way for the GM era in Britain, to loud protests from environmentalists.

However, only three weeks later Bayer withdrew its application, suggesting the regulatory climate would be too inhibiting. That followed the withdrawal from Europe of the world leader in GM crops, the American biotech giant Monsanto, which also seemed to have tired of the struggle.

Since then, the GM industry in Britain has withered on the vine, despite the fact that some members of the Government, and Tony Blair in particular, were privately great supporters of it from the outset. Official policy is portrayed as being neutral and based simply on scientific advice.

But yesterday's results make it even less likely that other big agribusiness firms will want to come forward and go through the extensive testing process - and public opposition - that bringing a GM crop to market in Britain would involve.

Last night, the Conservatives spotted a political opportunity from the latest test results and, this morning, the shadow Environment Secretary, Tim Yeo, will pledge to prevent any commercial planting of GM crops until science showed it would be safe for people and the environment, and there was a liability regime in place to deal with any cross-contamination.

Observers saw that as yet another Tory attempt to win over Middle England voters in the pre-election campaign.

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