9th June 2014
An EU "opt out" proposal on growing GM crops could fast track controversial RoundUp Ready crops, which are blanket sprayed with weedkiller, into England, warned GeneWatch UK today. UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is expected to vote for the proposal at the Environment Council 12th June and has worked closely with the GM industry on the policy.
Whilst Scotland and Wales will ban GM crops under the proposals, England could fast track RoundUp Ready GM maize into the ground (1). Two varieties of maize genetically engineered to be tolerant to the weedkiller RoundUp are awaiting approval at EU level, one produced by Monsanto and one by Syngenta. These so-called 'first generation' GM crops are patented by multi-national companies which sell both the seeds and the weedkiller to farmers as a package.
"The UK Government has colluded with commercial lobbyists to fast track RoundUp Ready GM maize into England, despite the expected harm to British wildlife such as birds and butterflies caused by blanket spraying of these crops with weedkiller" said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. "If some farmers in England press ahead with GM cultivation as a result of this proposal, conventional and organic farmers across the country will face the unnecessary risk of loss of markets due to contamination with GM".
Documents released to GeneWatch UK as the result of Freedom of Information requests have highlighted how closely the UK Government is working with the GM industry (2) and the extent to which commercial lobbying has influenced the European proposals (3).
The EU "opt out" proposal is intended to speed up GM crop approvals whilst allowing the countries opposed to growing them to opt out by imposing bans on the cultivation of specific crops in specific regions. Concerns about the "opt out" proposal include that previous commitments to improve environmental risk assessment have yet to be implemented. This means that RoundUp Ready crops, which are blanket sprayed with weedkiller, could be approved for cultivation despite known environmental harms, including the growth of herbicide-tolerant superweeds and the loss of habitat for birds and butterflies (4). In the UK, there are no national measures for co-existence of GM and non-GM crops and for liability for the costs of contamination incidents, which can cost conventional and organic farmers many millions of pounds in lost markets for their products.
Other GM crops in the EU pipeline are not suitable for growing in the UK. Currently only a small area of one GM crop, a pest-resistant GM maize (Bt maize) produced by Monsanto, is grown in the EU, mainly in Spain.
For further information contact:
Dr Helen Wallace: 07903-311584 (mobile)
Notes for Editors:
(1) Environment groups condemn Paterson's plans to plant RoundUp Ready GM crops in England. GeneWatch UK, Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth, GM Freeze, Soil Association. Joint press release. 10th March 2014. http://www.genewatch.org/article.shtml?als[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=574352
(2) UK Government and GM industry collusion exposed. GeneWatch UK PR. 6th May 2014. http://www.genewatch.org/article.shtml?als[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=574495
(3) Biotech lobby's fingerprints over new EU proposal to allow national GMO bans. Corporate Europe Observatory. 27th May 2014. http://corporateeurope.org/food-and-agriculture/2014/05/biotech-lobbys-fingerprints-over-new-eu-proposal-allow-national-gmo
(4) Squire GR, Brooks DR, Bohan DA, et al. (2003) On the rationale and interpretation of the Farm Scale Evaluations of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 358(1439):1779-1799. http://www.scri.ac.uk/research/epi/agroecology/fieldandlandscape/fseofgmhtcrops ;
Pleasants JM, Oberhauser KS (2013) Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population. Insect Conservation and Diversity 6(2):135-144.; Fraser K (2013) Glyphosate Resistant Weeds - Intensifying. Stratus Research. 25th January 2013. http://www.stratusresearch.com/blog07.htm ; Benbrook CM (2012) Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. - the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe 24(1):24. http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24 ; Reuters: U.S. GMO crops show mix of benefits, concerns - USDA report. 24th February 2014. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/24/usda-gmo-report-idUSL1N0LT16M20140224 ; GM Contamination Register http://www.gmcontaminationregister.org/ .