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UK GM crop sites could taint organic farms - lobby

14.03.2002
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UK GM crop sites could taint organic farms - lobby
LONDON - Over 100 organic farms could be at risk of being tainted by genetically modified crop test sites, according to research published yesterday by an organic farming group.
The distances between gene crops and other varieties have long been a bone of contention between authorities and critics who claim the government is imposing GM food on a wary public. The Soil Association said its research showed that 111 organic farms are close to 44 fields of GM spring rapeseed, sugar beet and fodder beet - a claim swiftly denied by Britain\'s farm ministry. The group also said that more fields could be affected by the next round of GM maize planting, due to be announced later yesterday. The government has stuck to its set separation distances, which are designed to ensure that cross-pollination is a maximum of one percent, even though farm minister Margaret Beckett had said that there was a case for wider distances. \"The government is in a state of chaos and confusion over GM buffer zones,\" Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said. \"It has always said that it will protect the right of British consumers to choose non-GM British food. But over the last few months, their two main advisory committees have told them that current practice risks destroying that choice,\" he added. A spokesman from Britain\'s farm ministry said the government had given information from the Soil Association on the location of organic crops to an independent body which chooses the trial sites. \"The government is not aware of any case where a GM trial site had affected the status of an organic crop,\" the spokesman from Britain\'s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) added. In January, the government\'s policy commission on Food and Farming, which published a radical blueprint on England\'s rural future, said that \"...some producers, such as organic farmers, depend on being able to guarantee that their products are GM free.\" The government\'s independent biotechnology advisers, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, has also said the trial sites could put organic and non-organic farms at risk. The current round of trial sites are the second last of a three-year programme to evaluate whether gene-spliced crops should be grown commercially. The government is due to decide next year whether some GM crops can be grown commercially, and will consider the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops, the DEFRA spokesman said. REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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