March 31, 2004

Bayer deals blow to GM crops

GM crop growing in the UK comes to an abrupt end

GM crop growing has been shelved for the "foreseeable future", according to the UK government. German company Bayer CropScience was the only firm eligible to grow herbicide resistant maize in the UK. But it has decided not to cultivate the crop, Chardon LL, blaming government constraints for making it "economically non-viable".

The move is likely to put an end to GM crop growing in this country for "the foreseeable future".

In a statement, Bayer CropScience said government-imposed conditions would stall GM maize production for too long. "The specific details of these conditions are still not available and thus will result in yet another 'open-ended' period of delay," it said.

Economically non-viable
"These uncertainties and undefined timelines will make this five-year old variety economically non-viable." But environment minister Elliot Morley defended the government's stance on GM maize. He said: "We do not apologise for the fact there is a tough EU-wide regulatory regime on GMs. It applies to the whole of the EU not just the UK.

"We always said it would be for the market to decide the viability of growing and selling GM once the government assessed safety and risk.
"Number 10's Strategy Unit report on the costs and benefits of GM last year did say there would be limited short-term commercial benefits in the UK for growing GM." Chardon LL was given EU permission for cultivation in 1999 but it failed to get the green light in the UK until earlier this month.

Deep concern
Pete Riley, GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth commented: "This is fantastic news...this episode will be acutely embarrassing to Ministers, and of deep concern to Bayer's shareholders. The Government must now abandon this dangerous and unpopular technology."

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) expressed its disappointment that Bayer was unable to continue with commercialisation of Chardon LL. But it said it recognised that this was a commercial decision reached " due to the unforeseen length of time the GM crop has taken to gain full regulatory approval".

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett approved cultivation of tthe herbicide tolerant maize. But she rejected commercial cultivation of GM beet and oilseed rape - the two other GM crops involved in recent tests, known as the farm-scale evaluations.

Her statement followed five years of consultation, farm scale trials and a major public survey which showed 90% of the public were against GM crops. She said the GM maize licences would expire in October 2006, and any consent holders wishing to renew them would have to carry out scientific analysis during cultivation.

Her approach was "precautionary" and "evidence-based", she said. There was "no scientific case for a blanket approval for all uses of GM... and no scientific case for a blanket ban on the use of GM".
BBC online