Memorandum submitted by the Supply Chain
Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) (A36)
SCIMAC welcomes the opportunity to contribute
to the Committee's inquiry into the future of UK agriculture.
SCIMAC represents a broad base of membership
along the UK farm supply chain:
British Society of Plant Breeders
Crop Protection Association
UK Agricultural Supply Trade Association.
British Sugar Beet Seed Producers
As detailed in the attached explanatory memorandum
(see Annex), the primary focus of SCIMAC's activity is to support
the open and responsible introduction of genetically modified
(GM) crops in the UK through the development of an independently
audited programme of industry stewardship.
SCIMAC member organisations share a commitment
to ensuring UK adoption of GM crop technology is carefully managed,
identifies closely with public opinion, and delivers a meaningful
choice for farmers, the food industry and consumers.
Consensus within SCIMAC is based on a shared
conviction that access to new technology has been, and will remain,
fundamental to the future well-being of UK agriculturenot
only in terms of the industry's economic competitiveness and the
marketability of its products, but also in terms of farmers' ability
to protect and enhance the British countryside and environment.
Adoption of GM crops in other parts of the world
has increased significantly in recent years. An estimated 110
million acres of GM crops were sown in 2001a 25-fold increase
compared with five years ago. The reasons cited by farmers for
this rapid uptake include increased yields, savings in chemical
inputs, labour and fuel, reduced cultivations, and greater ease
and flexibility of management.
The Committee has specifically invited views
on the challenges facing UK agriculture as a result of possible
reductions in production-based support and the further dismantling
of barriers to international trade. Such developments will inevitably
expose UK agriculture to even greater competitive pressures. It
is therefore essential that British farmers enjoy fair and equitable
access to the scientific and technological advances already enjoyed
by producers in other parts of the world.
The current generation of GM crops offer potential
improvements in productivity, cost efficiency and environmental
performance. Faced with the prospect of reduced production subsidies,
and/or a switch of support into the delivery of specific environmental
objectives, access to GM crop technology may have a significant
role to play in fostering a viable and sustainable future for
In considering the future for UK agriculture
beyond subsidies, SCIMAC therefore urges the Committee to consider
fully how new technologies, including biotechnology, can contribute
to British farmers' ability to produce sufficient quantities of
safe, high quality crops for food, feed and non-food uses, cost-effectively
and in sympathy with the environment.
Specific case studies are perhaps the most effective
way to illustrate how fair and equitable access to new technologyin
a future with or without subsidiescan help British farmers
compete effectively on domestic and international markets, and
also deliver continued environmental improvements.
The following examples demonstrate how current
applications of GM crop technology, in this case introducing new
types of herbicide tolerance, can provide increased flexibility
and ease of management for growers, and directly support the use
of integrated farming systems which combine both economic and
1. GM HERBICIDE
Sugar beet is a highly valuable crop, but very
susceptible to weed competition. A weedy beet crop may produce
no harvestable roots at all.
Currently, farmers therefore spray conventional
beet crops several times during the growing season, using mixtures
of selective herbicides to control weeds. Most commonly used herbicides
for beet crops contain residual or soil-acting compounds, which
remain active in the soil. To be effective, such herbicides must
be used before the weeds emerge or when they are very small, so
beet crops contain very few weeds early in the season.
The GM beet crop allows farmers to maintain
or enhance productivity while controlling weeds with fewer applications,
using less herbicide, avoiding residual types, and reducing the
overall cost of weed control.
Perhaps more significantly, the introduction
of this new type of herbicide tolerance allows greater flexibility
in the timing and targeting of weed control. This may bring a
change in approach to weed control for the commercial beet grower,
from his current objective of eliminating weeds from an early
stage in the season, to a programme of later weed control. This
could allow more weeds early in the season, as an important food
source for wildlife and a habitat for insects. In addition, this
new type of herbicide tolerance allows for more flexible and innovative
approaches to the targeting of weed control in the field. UK trials
have already pointed to the success of band spraying in glyphosate-tolerant
GM beet to combine both economic and environmental objectives
as part of commercial beet production. Band spraying essentially
involves targeting weed control immediately over the beet crop
rows, leaving corridors of weeds between the rows throughout the
growing season as a food source and habitat for wildlife which
does not compete with the growing crop.
IN GM FORAGE
Initial trials have taken place in the UK to
investigate the potential for herbicide tolerant GM maize to optimise
herbicide use and reduce nitrate pollution of watercourses on
Genetic modification has enabled plant breeders
to develop crop varieties with a new type of herbicide tolerancein
this case forage maize has been bred to tolerate the non-selective,
rapidly biodegradable herbicide glufosinate ammonium. This offers
farming and environmental advantages by reducing the number of
herbicides and applications required, and by minimising the use
of persistent herbicides with residual activity in the soil.
In addition, it may enable farmers to adopt
specific management practices offering further benefits for the
environment and biodiversity. For example, forage maize is commonly
grown in continuous rotation by dairy farmers and ensiled to provide
a source of winter forage. Once harvested in September/October,
the maize site is left bare. This has been identified as a potential
source of nitrate pollution through leaching over the winter months.
One solution may be to establish a winter cover
crop within growing maize to provide a further source of winter/spring
fodder and to "mop up" nitrates. Current methods of
weed control in maize are based on use of persistent herbicides.
This effectively prevents undersowing of any cover crop with the
possible exception of the most hardy ryegrass varieties.
GMHT maize allows undersowing. In trials, the
standing maize crop was treated with glufosinate ammonium at the
critical growth stage, then immediately undersown using a cereal
drill. Such an approach is considered practicable until early
Drawing on the advice of ecologists, individual
trial crops were undersown separately with stubble turnips and
grass ley mixtures both with and without clover. In all cases,
excellent germination was achieved, and healthy crops established
to provide winter cover once the maize had been harvested.
While still at a concept stage, this application
of GHMT crop technology provides a practical example of how emerging
technologies can be managed in specific ways to deliver a win:win
scenario for farmers and the environment.
However, the effective contribution of emerging
technologies to a sustainable future for British agriculture will
depend on the existence of a regulatory framework which enables,
not disables, future progress and innovation. Controls must be
science-based, and focused on the overriding regulatory objectives
of delivering safety and choice for all.
Once safety and choice have been addressed where
the use of new technology is concerned, issues of public or consumer
acceptance are the preserve of commercial and market forces, not
the responsibility or concern of regulators.
Furthermore, consumer demands and priorities
are continually changing, and regulations must be sufficiently
flexible to support a rapid response by industry to meet those
It is, however, the responsibility of regulators
to provide clear, transparent and unequivocal public information
about the regulatory processes, and to ensure the public communication
of risk, whether in relation to human health, food, feed or environmental
safety, is accurate and proportionate. This is imperative to strengthen
public confidence in the regulations, which address these issues,
and the science behind them.
Within British agriculture, arrangements
must also be in place to underpin access and choice to the benefits
of emerging technologies, at the same time promoting co-existence
between all legitimate production systems.
While the issue of safety is not in question,
SCIMAC respects the views and considerations of those whoon
commercial, ethical, religious or purely personal groundsactively
wish to avoid certain approaches to agriculture. That is their
choice. However, SCIMAC is also firmly of the view that no legitimate
sector of agricultural activity has a right of veto over another.
The SCIMAC stewardship programme, endorsed by
the UK Government in May 1999, was established to support the
effective integration of GM crop technology alongside existing
forms and systems of agriculture. Like the proven system for growing
certified seed crops, it requires the GM crop grower to follow
specific management regimes, to consult with neighbouring farmers,
and at all times to preserve the identity and integrity of the
Through this process of mutual co-existence,
farmers as well as consumers can exercise a choice.
The issue of co-existence is critical to the
ability of Britain's farmers to access and exploit all legitimate
approaches to crop production. As has been highlighted in this
document, current applications of GM crop technology may have
a direct bearing on British farmers' ability to meet future priorities
and objectives, and for which solutions may not be possible using
currently available technology.
Future applications of GM crop technology may
not have been considered in detail in this submission. Genetic
modification is a tool, not an end in itself. As such, it offers
significant potential to extend the scope, accuracy and potential
of crop development and improvement. Whether its application is
directed towards improvements in agricultural performance, food
quality and nutrition, or the field-based production of renewable
fuel, fibre, industrial products or even high value pharmaceuticals,
will be determined by future market demands.
However, the Government does have an important
role which it should not neglect. Government has to operate the
regulatory system for the release of GM crops and foodstuffs and
should ensure that consumers have full access to that system and
a full explanation of the basis on which it works. Provided Government
fulfils this role SCIMAC believes that its members, working together,
can deliver a technology which increases choice for farmers, the
food chain and consumers and contributes to a viable and sustainable
future for British agriculture.
14 December 2001