The government’s approach to genetically modified (GM) crops is incoherent and the issue is not given sufficient attention, according to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.1
The committee’s inquiry into bioengineering was told by government that GM crops are considered to be safe and offer potential benefits. Yet it found a reluctance to champion the technology publicly. "We strongly urge the government to signal its support for GM crops as well as improving the regulatory situation in Europe," the MPs say.
The regulation of GM crops in Europe is a mess. Member states repeatedly block approval of crops even after positive risk assessments from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
A host of member states have invoked a ‘safeguard clause’ to ban Mon810 maize, the only GM crop currently grown in the EU, although EFSA says there is no evidence to justify such bans (ENDS Report 410, pp 57-58).
The government told the select committee inquiry the system was not operating effectively and it was pressing for change, but the committee found it "was unable to provide us with the evidence that it is doing so".
Meanwhile the European Commission intends to propose changes to the regulatory framework this summer, setting out how EU-level authorisation of GM crops can be combined with the right of member states to ban the technology.
At the start of March, the commission approved the GM potato Amflora for cultivation, the first new approval for 12 years. It is a high-starch variety that will be used in the pulp and paper industry.
The potato will not be grown in the UK, which lacks the relevant industrial users. The UK also lacks coexistence regulations, setting rules on separation distances between GM and non-GM varieties and establishing liability for contamination. The environment department (DEFRA) consulted on measures in 2006 but has yet to take the proposals forward.