crop geek | 18.01.2004 18:49 | Bio-technology
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor Independent on Sunday
18 January 2004
GM crops will be given the go-aheadfor a single season in Britain, in a move largely crafted to save the Prime Minister's face, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
The Government is preparing a very limited approval for just one crop, GM maize, which will effectively mean that it will only be able to be grown in 2005 and then under strict conditions that may make it uneconomic.
The plan, which will be announced next month, is designed to save Tony Blair from abandoning the technology, while placating public outrage by ensuring that few controversial crops are actually planted in British soil.
In a policy statement to be published next month, the Government will, in effect, reject the growing of GM beet and oilseed rape in Britain, on the grounds that official trials published last autumn showed that growing them was much more damaging to nature than their conventional counterparts.
But they will announce a green light for GM maize because the trials showed that growing it was less destructive of wildlife than the traditional crop. This will appear to validate the Prime Minister's desire to introduce the technology to Britain, but it will provide little comfort to the biotech industry.
In the meantime, as The Independent on Sunday exclusively reported last October, atrazine, the pesticide used on conventional maize, will be banned. The chemical, which effectively sterilises the soil, is entirely responsible for the poor performance of the maize against its GM counterpart in the official trials.
If it is to get permission for GM maize beyond 2006, the industry will have to prove its case all over again with a new set of studies, to show that growing its product remains more beneficial than traditional cultivation even after atrazine has been replaced.
Ministers will insist that the GM maize is grown under the same conditions as in the official trials. Critics say that conditions were designed to give the modified crop the best possible environmental performance, making it uneconomic in the real world.
Senior officials expect that there will be no market for GM maize, and believe it will only be grown if biotech firms give farmers "offers they cannot refuse".