Hopefully, they are right that "it seems unlikely that anyone would want to" grow it! It certainly doesn't appear to be suited to UK growing conditions.

Growers can exploit GM loophole
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
The Guardian, August 8, 2005,2763,1544733,00.html

GM crops can be grown in the UK without farmers having to notify the authorities or their neighbours, the Guardian has discovered after testing a loophole which allows enthusiasts to grow their own GM maize.

Supporters of GM crops can legally grow them in Britain by applying to the biotech company Monsanto for a sample pack of GM maize to test on a British farm.

When the Guardian put this to the test, Monsanto offered to send a small quantity free provided the farmer sent the test results and undertook to protect the company's interest by not breaching patents, for example, by selling the seed to a third party.

The government admits there is nothing to stop some GM crops being grown in the UK. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says no regulations exist to prevent farmers growing GM crops approved for cultivation elsewhere in the EU because "it seems unlikely that anyone would want to do so".

The gap in the regulations which would allow Monsanto maize to be grown in the UK without notifying Defra arises because a number of varieties were approved for cultivation in the EU in 1998, before public concern forced governments to rethink their policies.

In the UK, later applications to grow GM sugar beet, oilseed rape and maize were blocked by the government after protests in which trial plots were destroyed. Campaigners believed the herbicide sprayed on GM crops would damage biodiversity and that GM genes would spread to crops, rendering them unsaleable.

In response, Michael Meacher, then environment minister, devised crop trials to discover whether the fears of environmentalists were justified. Two GM crops, oilseed rape and sugar beet, were found to damage the environment more than their conventional alternative, but GM maize did not do so. The companies who had applied for a licence to allow these crops to be sold commercially in this country decided not to proceed.

However, none of this affected the approvals given in 1998 to a large number of varieties of maize called MON 810, which was developed by Monsanto to be poisonous to a borer insect which so damaged the plant that it could render the crop worthless.

There is no regulation which prevents this and other GM seeds approved for growing elsewhere in the EU from being imported into Britain for cultivation. A farmer could theoretically feed it to his cattle and no one would know he had grown it.

Neighbouring farmers, who could face contamination of their crops from cross-pollination by bees, would have no way of knowing what had happened unless checks by food companies or the Soil Association revealed GM content.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "At present neither Monsanto nor any farmer growing the crop is required to inform Defra or anyone else of their plans to grow one of the varieties of maize MON 810 on the EU common catalogue of seeds. If the farmer subsequently sells the MON 810 plants or produce he will have to comply with EU GM traceability and labelling regulations. There is no requirement to put information on MON 810 on the public register."

Emily Diamond, of Friends of the Earth, said: "We believed that following the farm-scale trials that no GM crops were being grown in Britain. Now we cannot be sure whether they are or not. There are a number of other GM crops coming up for approval in other EU countries which could be subsequently imported into the UK without anyone being aware it was happening."

Environmental groups and farmers are concerned because the government does not yet have in place legally enforceable regulations on separation distances between GM and other crops. In addition, the government has to develop a compensation scheme for farmers whose crops are rendered unsaleable by contamination from a GM crop.

Tony Combes, a spokesman for Monsanto, said: "Monsanto's long-standing commitment to openness and transparency means we will always cooperate with bona fide scientists and often donate seed for research purposes.

"However, this endeavour to obtain MON 810 seeds from Spain (where they have been successfully planted commercially since 1998) was neither genuine or even by a research scientist. Also, no research agreement was completed (this agreement details the research protocols governing a proposed study and represents a safeguards to ensure GM seeds are not obtained fraudulently by deception, entrapment and for non-scientific purposes). These are both sufficient reason why no seeds would have been sent."

UK history

Late 1980s Laboratories grew first GM seeds in UK

1994 Bio-tech firms planned to put herbicide-tolerant GM oil seed rape on market

1995 Applications made to sell Herbicide GM maize<P><B>1996

Government committee concerned about risks

1999 Bio-tech industry agreed not to market GM seeds until trials complete

2000 First GM trials

2003 Results showed spring-sown GM oil seed rape and sugar beet damaged biodiversity more than conventional crops. GM maize did less damage<P><B>2005

Results confirmed winter GM oil seed rape was worse for environment than conventional crops

Summer 2005 Government announces plans to consult on separation and legal framework for growing GM crops