21 November 2004

GM firms finally give up on planting in Britain

Industry has dropped its last attempts to get GM seeds approved for growing in Britain, in a final surrender of its dream to spread modified crops rapidly across the country.

Bayer CropScience has withdrawn the only two remaining applications for government permission for the seeds - a winter and a spring oilseed rape, both modified to tolerate one of the firm's herbicides. Supporters of the technology say this will put back their commercial use in Britain for years. Environmentalists cite it as one more indication that they are never likely to be grown here.

The withdrawal of the applications marks a sharp contrast to the situation when The Independent on Sunday began its campaign over genetic modification nearly six years ago. At that time, 53 different GM seeds were awaiting approval, and widespread cultivation was assumed to be only a year away.

The Government had put all its weight behind the technology, aiming to make Britain its "European hub", and Tony Blair privately dismissed opposition as a "flash in the pan".

But rising public concern forced the Government to introduce a moratorium while tests were carried out on the effects on the environment of growing GM crops. The trials - the results of which were reported last year - found that the way GM beet and spring oilseed rape were cultivated damaged wildlife more than the growing of conventional crops (the results for winter oilseed rape are due to be published shortly).
The trials appeared to clear GM maize, but the IoS revealed that the verdict was invalid because a pesticide central to the clearance was about to be banned. The Government still gave approval for the maize to be grown - the only one given to a GM crop in Britain. But shortly afterwards, Bayer announced it would not proceed, saying that the controls on how the maize would be cultivated were too strict.

GM advocates presented this as a temporary setback, arguing that new varieties could be grown as early as 2006. Now, however, industry, ministers and environmentalists agree that the abandonment of the last applications means it will be the end of this decade, at the earliest , before any GM crops can be grown.

Any new application will now have to go through a long process to be approved. First, it will have to be passed by the European Union, an unlikely prospect as it has a moratorium on GM crops. Even if that hurdle were surmounted, the crop would have to go through two years of trials in Britain, and then get government approval - a process that will be fought by protesters.
Last week Bayer said it would not even try to carry out trials in Britain until the Government took strong measures to stop protesters pulling up the plants. And ministers now believe that there is no market for the crops, so they would not be grown even if approval were granted.

Yesterday, Pete Riley, director of the anti-GM campaign Five Year Freeze, said: "This development makes it even less likely that modified crops will ever be grown in Britain. The Government should now abandon its doomed obsession with GM crops and put together a coherent strategy to put the whole of UK farming on a sustainable basis." (by Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor, The Independent)

for more details on the withdrawn crops go to the DEFRA Plant varieties and seeds public register webpages: and