DEFRA to preempt GM trials
Source: FWi 04 March 2003

By Farmers Weekly Staff

THE government could give permission for genetically-modified crops to be grown in this country before the results of trials are known and a public debate has been held.

The government plans to press ahead with licensing commercial use of GM crops reports The Guardian.

The paper said rural affairs secretary Margaret Beckett has decided that 18 applications to the European Union for growing and importing crops such as maize and sugar beet, are "unstoppable" and there is no alternative but to process them.

"A spokesman for DEFRA confirmed that licensing would take place without considering the outcome of public debate," the paper added.

But the department said that any licences could be revoked or amended if evidence emerged on public health or environmental damage.

The move has angered both the Scottish executive and the Welsh assembly.

Ross Finnie, the Scottish environment minister, is reported to have made a personal protest to Mrs Beckett demanding the licensing process be halted.

A spokesman for the executive said going ahead with the GM plans before public opinion was known would be "premature and improper".

A spokesman for the Welsh assembly also believed it would be premature.

The Guardian reported that the assembly is discussing the matter with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

The paper also highlighted the results from farm-scale trials will not be available before the public debate starts in June.

This is because of the Royal Society's "lengthy" peer review process which will hold back the results until September.

The paper added: "A week ago, Mrs Beckett doubled to #500,000 the funding of the government-sponsored debate on the introduction of GM crops and extended it from June to September...The government promised to take full account of the views thrown up by the public and the evidence from the crop trials before any commercial planting took place."