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Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 05:36 GMT


GM food freeze call

Oilseed rape: A pollen escape fuelled fears of genetic crops' risks

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

A wide-ranging consortium of 29 groups is joining forces to call for a five-year pause before genetically-modified (GM) crops can be commercially grown in Britain.

BBC Environment Correspondent Richard Wilson: "The debate has turned into a PR disaster"
They are mounting their campaign at the House of Commons amid warnings that the government is misleading the public over the safety of GM food.

The Conservatives are also renewing calls for the resignation of Science Minister Lord Sainsbury after a report that he owns a company linked to a scare involving GM food.

The launch of the campaign comes the day before one of the leading companies involved in developing GM crops, Monsanto, appears in court charged with failing to control the spread of pollen from a trial planting.

The BBC's Alicia McCarthy: "Public concerns have increased"
The case, which Monsanto says it will not contest, is being heard in Caistor Magistrates' Court in Lincolnshire.

The trial plot, which was being used for herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape, should have had a six-metre wide pollen barrier around it, to prevent any inadvertent spread of pollen to nearby conventional crops.

But the barrier was found to be only two metres wide. Monsanto said the correct border had been in place at the start of the trial, but had been accidentally mown down by a contractor.

The groups involved in the moratorium call are a range of consumer, development, health and environment organisations.

Pause for thought

While some are small and little-known, there are also some household names.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are members, as are the Townswomen's Guild and the Iceland supermarket chain, which is committed to making its own brands GM-free.

Cindy Baxter of ActionAid: We do not know what's around the corner
Development groups include ActionAid, the Catholic Institute for International Relations, the World Development Movement, and Christian Aid.

The coalition is urging a five-year freeze on the growing of GM crops for any commercial purpose; on the import of GM foods and farm crops and on the patenting of genetic resources for food and farm crops.

[ image: Can GM crops really help poor farmers?]
Can GM crops really help poor farmers?
The co-ordinator of the Five Year Freeze Campaign, Sandra Bell, said: "The government seems to be deaf to all but a few, carefully selected, commercially based opinions.

"This flies in the face of the widespread public concern at the rush to embrace GM crops and food. Five years gives us all time to make informed decisions."

Iceland boss Malcolm Walker says the freeze makes sound business sense, and consumers want it. He says the company has had "an overwhelmingly positive response from its customers" over its policy.

Another supporter of the campaign is Dr Vandana Shiva, an Indian campaigner who advises ActionAid.

Rather than feeding the world, said Dr Shiva, genetic engineering would more probably increase poverty, by destroying centuries-old subsistence farming practices.

"Genetic engineering is likely only to feed the profits of multinational companies like Monsanto - it is not the answer to world hunger."

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