Meacher admits GM crops threaten organic output
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Tuesday May 20, 2003
Contamination from GM crops threatens the drive to increase organic food production, Michael Meacher, the environment minister, conceded yesterday.
"The coexistence of organic and GM crops is a very real problem," he said. "Whatever decisions the government comes to about the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain, it has to be compatible with allowing the growth of organics."
About 30% of the organic produce consumed in Britain is grown here. The government wants to increase this to 70% by 2010, and yesterday it issued its first progress report.
Mr Meacher said Tesco, the UK's biggest food retailer, sold organic food worth £250m a year, and intended to sell £1bn a year by 2005. All super markets in Britain had a no-GM policy. Though consumers might be opposed to GM crops, he added, it was impossible under EU rules for Britain to stop them being grown commercially, unless it found health or environmental evidence they were harmful. Ethical or moral reasons did not count.
This admission has angered anti-GM campaigners, two weeks before the government- sponsored debate on the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain begins. If the UK has no alternative, the debate is pointless, they say. The government says it will take full account of the public's views when coming to a decision.
Mr Meacher said the government was awaiting a report from an advisory body, the agriculture and environment biotechnology commission, on how to make it possible to combine GM, organic and conventional farming.
This included the issues of the distance between crops, to avoid cross contamination by pollen, and compensation for farmers whose crops might be made unsaleable as a result of their proximity to GM crops.
The government report on organics showed that, since 1996, the area had risen from 25,000 hectares to 250,000 last year, although 27% of this was in conversion from conventional crops. Organic farmers had grown from 900 to 4,000 in the same period.
About 4% of agricultural land was organic, and it was a £1bn a year business, Mr Meacher said. The government favoured organic production: it used less energy, caused less pollution to air and water, and less nitrate loss from soil.