The controversy over genetically-modified food is heating up as EU proposals to relax the rules on approving new varieties for cultivation in Europe has already sparked a clash between English and Scottish ministers over their future in Britain.
The EU, which has approved only two GM crops in the past 12 years due to public resistance, is now proposing a fast-track approach that will give commissioners greater freedom to approve new varieties. It would also allow member states to choose whether to allow or ban them on grounds other than safety or the need to limit the cross-contamination of conventional crops with buffer zones.
The Scottish Government rushed out a statement emphasising its "fundamental" opposition" to growing GM crops in the UK after new UK environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, told the Guardian that she was in favour of GM crops"in the right circumstances" and that her department had already approved a trial on potatoes modified to resist blight.
Spelman, a former director of a biotech lobbying firm, believes the technology could be beneficial if the crops reduced the use of chemicals or gave resistance to drought or salty soils in developing countries.
The Scottish government however, was concerned that Scottish farms could be contaminated by GM crops grown near its southern borders. Instead, it is investing £13m a year in crop research to develop alternative options to GM.
Meanwhile, a row erupted last week over a £500,000 planned public dialogue by the Food Standards Agency after two advisors - Professor Brian Wynne of Lancaster University and Genewatch director Helen Wallace - quit the 11-strong steering group. They claimed the process had been rigged to promote GM foods](http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1283571/JOANNA-BLYTHMAN-GM-food-sinister-bid-twist-public-opinion.html) at the taxpayers' expense without addressing many of the perceived problems with the current technology.
[The *Observer*](http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/06/gm-crops-biotech-lobbyists-fsa) uncovered a stream of emails showing that the group had adopted many pro-GM arguments submitted by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council behind the scenes.
While the FSA awaits Government clarification on the future of the consultation, Spelman told the Guardian that, "The Food Standards Agency should not be spending taxpayers' money promoting GM foods."
Critics argue that widespread cross-contamination will limit consumer access to GM-free food and that recent research has unearthed evidence of serious damage to plants, animals, and the microbes that make soil fertile by GM crops or the glyphosate-based herbicides that many are modified to resist.
And Russian scientists revealed in April - that third-generation hamsters fed on GM soya (a key component of livestock feed) had shown high levels of infant mortality and sterility and that some had fur growing in their mouths.
By Angela Frewin
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