Future co-existence of GM and non-GM foods is further put under question as Friends of the Earth claims to have obtained a report destined for the UK government revealing that if GM crops are commercially grown in the UK it would be "difficult and in some places impossible to guarantee" that any UK food is GM-free.
The information was part of a report from the UK government's GM advisors, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC). The AEBC's working group on coexistence was to hold a meeting of stakeholders on Monday 28 April 2003.
GM foods are currently high up on the political agenda in Europe with the UK government expected to make a decision on the future commercialisation of GM crops within the next 12 months. Last Friday the European Commission held a stakeholder meeting to discuss coexistence. According to Friends of the Earth, Commission proposals on GM contamination of seeds have stalled as coexistence has emerged as a major issue in the EU.
Friends of the Earth describe how, at present, major food companies and retailers require conventional crops used as food ingredients to contain no more than 0.1 per cent of GM materials, if they are to be labelled as meeting consumer demand for GM-free food. But the AEBC is cited as predicting that this permitted threshold will be exceeded if GM crops are commercially grown.
UK-produced conventional oilseed rape is an important source of vegetable oil for food manufacturers producing food free of GM ingredients. Organic crops of maize and oilseed rape are set to expand in line with the government's Organic Action Plan, produced last year, which required more organic food to be grown in the UK.
However, the environmentalist group points out that if GM crops were allowed to coexist with non-GM ones, and if this report is true, this aim would no longer be possible as organic crops must not contain any detectable GM traits
Friends of the Earth's GM Campaigner Pete Riley said: "The AEBC has hit the nail on the head. If GM crops are given the commercial green light it will be a disaster for the majority of people that want to eat GM-free food. The European Commission is trying to pass the issue of coexistence and GM contamination to member states. The government must wake up to the threat these products pose to farming, food and the environment. Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett must not allow GM to be commercially grown in the UK."
Last year Friends of the Earth launched its GM-Free Britain campaign to persuade local authorities to take steps to go GM-free. Councils are being asked to pledge not to use GM food in schools, prevent tenant farmers from growing GM crops and make a formal submission to the government and the European Commission to stop GM crops being grown in their area. In response, a growing number of Councils have already taken action, creating a GM-free band in the south west of England. Others are expected to follow suit.