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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Bayer deals blow to UK GM crops
Corn cobs   Monsanto
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-tolerant maize in the UK.

But it has blamed government conditions for making the crop "economically non-viable" because they would stall production of the maize for too long.

The move is likely to put an end to commercialisation of GM crops in Britain until at least 2008.

We do not apologise for the fact there is a tough EU-wide regulatory regime on GMs
Elliot Morley
Bayer CropScience spokesman Dr Julian Little told BBC News Online that the government's decision giving a tentative go-ahead to GM commercialisation was "symbolic" and made "in the face of a lot of hostility".

But he added the decision had put several new regulatory hurdles in the way of commercialisation.

"These were ill-defined in the sense that we didn't know what they entailed. The timeline was open-ended to the point that it was clear we were unlikely to get commercialisation of this product before 2006-2007," Dr Little explained.

"That makes an already ageing variety old and essentially economically unviable."

Tough stance

He said that the decision had been influenced by calls for new legislation on guidelines for farmers, a legal framework for liability, further biodiversity trials and rewrites on present and future European Union licences for the technology.

The company had only been expecting a short delay caused by national listing of the seed, registration of the pesticide and final approval by the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, Dr Little said.

Rape, BBC
Bayer CropScience will come back with a GM oilseed rape
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."

Bayer's GM maize, called 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".

The next window for the GM crop companies is 2008, when Bayer CropScience will propose commercialisation of oilseed rape and Monsanto and Syngenta will be vying to get GM sugar beet approved.

'Precautionary approach'

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett approved cultivation of the herbicide-tolerant maize on 9 March.

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 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".

The BBC's Tom Heap
"The government insists GM still has a future here"

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