Britain moves to tighten GM crop trial rules
LONDON - The UK government moved to tighten rules on future trials of genetically modified (GM) crops this week, but drew criticism from environmental campaigners for refusing to prosecute German biotech giant Bayer for breaching its previous restrictions.
Britain\'s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it is introducing the \"new, more stringent conditions\" after last year\'s incident in which Bayer CropScience, the UK arm of Germany\'s Bayer BAYG.DE
, inadvertently planted tainted GM rapeseed in trial sites throughout England and Scotland.
Bayer, which has conceded responsibility for the mixup, supplied government scientists with the gene-spliced, herbicide-resistant rapeseed since the trials began in 1999.
The discovery that some of the seeds used in the trials last year contained antibiotic material has already raised questions about the credibility of the trials, the results of which are due later this week.
\"Although the DEFRA Prosecution Division has advised against prosecution in this case, valuable lessons on enforcement have been learned,\" Food and Environment Minister Elliot Morley said in a statement.
\"In the case of any future research, we will require a detailed description of just how the seed to be tested has been produced,\" Morley added.
The government confirmed that Bayer would not be prosecuted in England, but it has been left open for Scottish authorities to decide their next move.
Environmentalist campaigners were outraged.
\"This just goes to show that even when a supposedly tight regulatory system is in place we still can\'t cope with the technology,\" Friends of the Earth\'s Pete Riley told Reuters.
\"If the government can\'t get even the small-scale trials right, how can we ever hope to manage them on a larger scale?\" he said.
GM PROTEST UNDERWAY IN LONDON
Meanwhile, more than a thousand campaigners marched through London this week in a protest against GM food and crops.
The parade, entitled \"Tractors and Trolleys\" was organised by anti-GM lobbyists Friends of the Earth, the Five-Year Freeze campaign, GM-free Wales and the Genetic Engineering Network.
Organiser Tony Juniper said the group would be handing a petition of more than 70,000 signatures calling for a \"GM-free Britain\" to 10 Downing Street, before moving on to a rally in Westminster, to be addressed by outspoken former environment minister Micheal Meacher.
TRIAL RESULTS DUE ON THURSDAY
The UK government is preparing to unveil its farm-scale trial results on Thursday.
The published results will then be forwarded to the government\'s GM think-tank ACRE, which will later advise the government on whether they should be grown commercially.
Opponents of the technology say the government should delay its decision on whether to endorse GM crops and conduct much more research into their effects on the environment and human health.
Environmental lobby groups fear that \"superweeds\" could start growing across the countryside due to cross-pollination between GM and conventional plants while proponents of organic food are worried their produce will become contaminated by the new varieties.
The UK\'s Guardian newspaper recently said the trial results would show that herbicides used with two of the three GM crops tested - rapeseed and sugar beet - were harmful to the environment, while GM maize was not.
In a separate move, DEFRA said the European Union\'s decision to ban the herbicide atrazine from future use would not render the trial results invalid because more one brand had been tested on the crop.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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