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Biotech giant, Bayer, no longer wants to grow the GM winter oil seed rape trialled in the GM farm scale evaluations in Europe, Friends of the Earth revealed today. The results of the crop trials of GM winter oil seed rape - the final results of the farm scale evaluations - are due to be unveiled on Monday (21 March).

Bayer has told the European Commission (EC) that it wishes to withdraw its application to grow the GM oilseed rape trialled in the FSEs [1], and only seek permission to import it into the EU for use in food and animal feed. The U-turn came after widespread European opposition; Friends of the Earth discovered that 23 out of 25 EU countries, including the UK, objected to the GM crop being grown because of concerns about the impact on the environment and human health [2].

But, in a bizarre twist, the EC has refused to allow Bayer to alter its joint application (to grow the GM oil seed rape and import it for use in food and feed). A decision is likely to be taken later this year.

Clare Oxborrow, Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner said:

"This move by Bayer shows that even the biotech industry has little confidence in its products, and rightly so. There are many serious concerns about the impact this crop could have on the environment and health. GM food and crops remain deeply unpopular. Bayer should now withdraw the whole application - including its intention to import it into the EU as food.

"The farm scale evaluations have ended in farce. The Government should pull the plug on this unnecessary and unpopular technology and invest in a truly sustainable farming future instead."

In March last year Bayer withdrew its GM maize (which was also grown in the FSEs) claiming it was "commercially non-viable" [3]. Now Monsanto's GM beet crops are the only FSE crops still in the EU approvals process for cultivation.

The four -year GM farm scale evaluations were ordered by the Government, following widespread public concern, to assess the impact on farmland wildlife of growing GM crops compared with conventional crops. They cost an estimated £5.5 million. The FSE results for GM maize, beet and spring oil seed rape were published in October 2003 [5]. GM oilseed rape and beet were judged to be more damaging to the environment than conventional counterparts, and Bayer abandoned plans to grow GM maize after its crop was only given limited approval by the government.

The British public remains deeply opposed to GM crops. A Which? survey last year revealed that opposition had hardened since a similar study in 2002. Sixty one per cent said that they were concerned about the use of GM in food production (56 per cent in 2002) and 58 per cent said they try to avoid GM ingredients altogether (a 13 per cent increase).

Notes

[1] Email from DEFRA, Tuesday 1 March 2005:

"The notifier (Bayer) chose to reduce the scope of the application to import and processing after the sixty day period. However, the EU Commission's position is that the notifier cannot change the scope of the notification at this stage…."

[2] Friends of the Earth obtained the Member State comments on the GM application through a Freedom of Information request to DEFRA. Examples of comments from member states:

UK: "The UK Competent Authority agrees … that on the basis of the information provided in the dossier approval for cultivation should not be granted."
Austria: "No data/studies at all on possible effects on human health are provided."
Belgium: controlling gene flow will be "impracticable, hardly workable, and hard to control".
France: "the French Food Safety Agency considers that the safety of genetically modified rape Ms8xRf3 from the health point of view cannot be guaranteed."
Poland: "…granting any consent for growing this species in EU territory would be inappropriate."
Slovenia: "the gene flow from a cultivation could not be managed satisfactory, so to ensure existence of all different agricultural practices in EU, including organic farming. In the same way the gene flow to wild relatives would be impossible to prevent."
Italy: "The Italian National Competent Authority agrees … that no authorisation should be granted for the cultivation of the product under notification C/BE/96/01".
Norway: "we will not support consent for this notification if it is to cover cultivation
"Sweden retains objection to the cultivation of this oilseed rape"

[3] Biotech firm ditches GM maize plans

[4] GM crops: Blair who do you represent, the British people, or Bush and the multi-nationals?

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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust