The Independent (UK)
26 May 2002
GM threat to organic farming
By Geoffrey Lean
Organic farming will be forced out of production in Britain and across Europe if GM crops are grown commercially, a startling new EU report concludes.
The report – which is so controversial that top EC officials tried to stop it being made public – shows that organic farms will become so contaminated by genes from the new crops that they can no longer be licensed or will have to spend so much money trying to protect themselves that they will become uneconomic. Conventional non-GM farms will also be seriously affected.
Drawn up as a result of two years of studies in Britain, France, Italy and Germany, it provides the most damning confirmation to date of the arguments, long advanced by environmentalists, that it is not possible for GM and organic farming to co-exist and that, as a result, shoppers will be denied a choice of what to buy.
The conclusion is politically explosive because the demand for organic produce is increasing rapidly across Europe, while consumer resistance to GM food has forced supermarkets not to stock it.
The Director General of the EC's Joint Research Centre, which produced the report, submitted it with a letter saying: "In view of the sensitivity of the issue, I would suggest that the report be kept for internal use within the Commission only."
Publication of the findings is embarrassing for the Government. On Friday the Prime Minister denounced GM opponents as using "emotion to drive out reason".
The report – which follows a study by the European Environment Agency warning that genes from GM crops will travel long distances, creating superweeds – studies the effects of growing modified maize, potatoes and oilseed rape commercially on several types of farms.
It found that even if only a tenth of a country or region was planted with them – far less that the 54 per cent of Canada now under GM crops – keeping contamination at a level that would allow organic farming to continue would be "extremely difficult for any farm-crop combination in the scenarios considered". It adds that when contamination occurred every year through "the wide-ranging cultivation of GM crops" in an area "organic farms will lose their organic status and face severe problems to grow their crops according to the regulations given by the EU".
GM farmers would also be at risk, it added, because organic farmers might well be entitled to compensation.
Yesterday, Adrian Bebb, food campaigner of Friends of the Earth, said: "This report shows that if GM crops are grown in Britain farming will be plunged into even greater crisis and consumers will be denied their fundamental right to choose what they and their children will eat."