Saturday, October 10, 1998 Published at 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
Gene crops face UK ban
GM crops have to be clearly labelled on foods
The government is considering banning the widespread farming of genetically modified crops.
One pressure group predicted genetically modified (GM) crops could lead to "chemical and genetic" warfare across the UK.
Reacting to fears, Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the government could impose a moratorium if experts proved a potential risk to public health and the environment.
The crops are created by splicing genetic material from other species into the crop's DNA.
The foreign genes are chosen to make crops resistant to specially developed pesticides, which kill everything else.
English Nature and environmental groups are also worried that GM crops could breed with wild plants, reducing the population of insects and birds.
Tony Juniper, of Friends of the Earth, told Radio 4's Today programme: "I do not believe that the implications of these crops in ecological terms has been properly explored.
If the resistant gene was bred into harmful weeds, he said, there could be "chemical and genetic warfare".
And he added that GM crop producers were merely conspiring to hold the monopoly in both seeds and pesticides.
But he insisted that the crops would be beneficial to the environment.
"You are no longer dependant on having multiple applications of cocktails of chemicals to remove the weeds."
Environment minister Michael Meacher said: "A moratorium certainly has to be justified as necessary to protect public health or the environment, or both.
"And the evidence for it has to be clear and sufficient.
Ministers have consulted environmental organisations and seed companies during the past week to see whether a voluntary practice can be agreed, Mr Meacher said.
But banning the crops could alienate the EU which largely controls how new crops are developed.
The Commission has also began legal proceedings against France for delaying the authorisation procedure for several other genetically altered crops.
Paris imposed a moratorium in July on approvals of all genetically engineered rapeseed varieties - including the herbicide-resistant PGS strains MS1 and RF2, which were given European Union approval in 1997 - amid concerns the genetic modifications could be transmitted to other crops.