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EDITIONS
Sunday, 13 October, 2002, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
'GM seed spread' warning
Police advance on protesters   PA
GM confrontation: Feelings run high over possible risks

Proposals to change controls on seeds could seriously harm wildlife, say UK Government advisers.

The proposals, drawn up by the European Commission, would set limits on the genetically modified (GM) material allowed in conventional seed batches.

The advisers say the limits proposed are far too high and could adversely affect farmland species.

They fear the emergence of GM "super weeds" resistant to normal herbicide doses.

'Super weeds'

The advisers are the British statutory nature conservation agencies - English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales.


Allowing GM-contaminated seed to be sold across Europe is a recipe for disaster

Pete Riley
Friends of the Earth

Campaigners from Friends of the Earth (FoE) have obtained a copy of the agencies' response to the draft proposals from Brussels. It expresses concern about the impacts of what is called "gene stacking".

Stacking describes what happens when more than one GM trait is found in the same plant, because of cross-pollination in the field.

The agencies' report says: "The agronomic and ecological impacts of cumulative transgene stacking are poorly understood.

'Concerned'

"We are concerned about stacking of herbicide tolerances because this may lead to farmers using more herbicides... potentially resulting in increased damage to biodiversity."

In some circumstances, the report says, this could lead to "the gradual development of weediness in native species".

Two men in crop field   BBC
The proposed limits are too high, says the report
The European draft proposes allowing conventional oilseed rape seed batches to contain up to 0.3% of GM seeds.

The report says this would mean up to 10,000 GM seeds per hectare could be sown inadvertently.

If a neighbouring farm also unknowingly used GM-contaminated seed, this would be an obvious way for stacking to occur.

Other GM thresholds proposed in the draft are 0.5% for tomatoes, beet, cotton, chicory, maize and potatoes and 0.7% for soya beans.

Above the proposed limits, seed batches would have to be labelled to show they included GM material.

'Unacceptable'

The conservation agencies say: "We see the proposed tolerance thresholds for transgenic impurities... as unacceptable.

"These levels may be logical in the context of food labelling regulations, where a threshold of 1% GM material is currently permitted, but have not been derived from the needs of environmental protection.

"We recommend that the UK aims for levels of transgenic impurities in conventional seed that are near zero... the levels set in the Commission's proposals are far too high."

'Recipe for disaster'

Pete Riley of FoE said: "Allowing GM-contaminated seed to be sold across Europe is a recipe for disaster.

"It will pollute our food and countryside and remove consumer choice. If anything goes wrong with this new technology, the potentially catastrophic consequences will be irreversible."

Plants and ploughed field   BBC Elvis
FoE fears "super-weeds"
Mr Riley told BBC News Online: "This is an extremely serious problem which the UK Government and the Commission have to get to grips with.

"It would mean widespread contamination of the British countryside. We have to have a zero threshold for seeds, or else we close off the options for future generations.

"You can get to zero if you have proper quality control, and realistic separation distances between crops. We don't know what 'realistic' means in practice.

"So if we want people to have a choice, and the environment to be protected, banning GM crops in the UK is the only option."

FoE is urging European Union agriculture and environment ministers to scrap the proposed new seed regulations.

See also:

24 Jul 02 | Scotland
03 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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