Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence




1.  Introduction to SCIMAC

  The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) is a grouping of industry organisations along the UK farm supply chain. Members are:

    —  British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB)

    —  Crop Protection Association (CPA)

    —  National Farmers Union (NFU)

    —  UK Agricultural Supply Trade Association (UKASTA)

    —  British Sugar Beet Seed Producers Association (BSBSPA).

  SCIMAC represents an extremely broad base of membership, including organisations and individuals not directly involved in the development of GM crop technology.

  SCIMAC's activities are managed by a Board of Management comprising one representative from each member organisation.

2.  SCIMAC objectives

  SCIMAC was established in June 1998 to support the open and responsible development of GM crops in the UK. All five member organisations believe GM crops offer benefits to consumers, the food chain and the environment, and share a commitment to ensuring UK adoption of the technology is carefully managed, identifies closely with public opinion, and delivers a meaningful choice for consumers.

  The proactive initiative by the whole farm supply chain has been developed well in advance of the first GM crops being grown commercially in this country. Under European and UK law, no GM crops can be approved unless they have been rigorously assessed for food, feed and environmental safety. SCIMAC fully supports effective, science-based regulation of the technology.

  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 agriculture—both in terms of our economic competitiveness and our ability to protect and enhance the British countryside and environment.

  Consensus within SCIMAC is also built on a common belief that decisions about the future role of GM crops in the UK must be based on sound scientific information.

3.  Regulatory assessment of GM crops

  Before any GM crop can be released into the environment (ie grown in the open), it must first undergo a rigorous safety evaluation as prescribed under European law. In the UK, an independent committee of experts—the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE)—advises Ministers on all applications to release GM crops.

  ACRE must be satisfied that a GM crop is safe in terms of its impact on human health, animal health and the environment before it can be approved for release.

  GM crops must also undergo separate evaluation for food and animal feed safety before they can be approved for marketing. The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) and the Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs (ACAF) conduct these assessments and provide advice to UK Ministers.

  Relevant GM crops, including the GM herbicide tolerant crops involved in the current programme of farm-scale evaluations, must also seek separate approval from the pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) in relation to the quality, safety and efficacy of the companion herbicide.

  In addition, all GM crop varieties are subject to the same seeds regulations as non-GM crops. These require at least two years' testing to establish the genetic distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS) of each new variety, as well as its value for cultivation and use (VCU) compared to other market leading varieties.

  Only after all these regulatory hurdles have been cleared can a GM crop be finally approved for commercial release.

4.  SCIMAC activities

  SCIMAC's role is essentially two-fold:

      (i)  Industry Stewardship—SCIMAC has developed a programme of on-farm management guidelines for GM herbicide tolerant crops. These guidelines have been formally endorsed by Government, and aim to ensure best practice in the way the crops are grown, and to provide choice for consumers via identity preservation of GM crops and neighbouring non-GM crops.

      (ii)  Farm-Scale Evaluations—SCIMAC is the industry partner in the Government's programme of farm-scale evaluations, and is responsible for identifying a pool of potential sites for further assessment and final selection by the independent Scientific Steering Committee overseeing the research programme.

5.  Industry Stewardship

  Following widespread consultation, SCIMAC has developed plans for the carefully managed and monitored introduction of GM crops, identifying closely with public attitudes towards the technology.

  The core aims of the SCIMAC Code of Practice are to provide identity preservation for GM crops, so allowing consumer choice, and to ensure effective adoption of GM crops within UK agriculture through best practice guidelines.

  This initiative builds on existing principles of good agricultural practice, and closely mirrors the proven system operated for more than 30 years to control the production of certified seed crops.

  Like the official seed certification system, the SCIMAC Code of Practice will be applied though a framework of legally binding contracts, subject to routine inspection, independent audit and penalties for non-compliance.

  Government backing for the SCIMAC initiative was announced on 21 May 1999. The stewardship programme is also attracting interest in Europe and beyond as a model for the measured and responsible adoption of technological progress in modern agriculture.

6.  SCIMAC in operation

  The SCIMAC Code of Practice on the Introduction of Genetically Modified Crops sets out basic requirements along the farm supply chain for provision of information, record-keeping and good management practice.

  To safeguard customer choice, this will ensure a consistent, industry-wide approach to the supply of information relating to GM crops from seed to harvested crop.

  The SCIMAC on-farm guidelines address the specific management implications of herbicide tolerance, the first GM application nearing commercialisation in the UK.

  The guidelines are designed to promote responsible environmental practice, to maintain the integrity of GM and non-GM crops (including organic and certified seed crops), and to optimise the effectiveness of the new technology within a farm-scale rotation.

  All aspects of on-farm operations are covered, including:

    —  Operator training and competence

    —  Seed storage and planting guidelines

    —  Machinery operation

    —  Crop separation distances

    —  Crop management and herbicide use

    —  Harvesting and post-harvest management guidelines

    —  On-farm monitoring and record-keeping.

7.  Farm-scale evaluations

  The farm-scale evaluations have been established in addition to the regulatory processes described above, and in response to specific concerns raised by groups such as English Nature and RSPB about the biodiversity effects of growing GM herbicide tolerant crops.

  The objective of this Government-funded programme is to assess the wider effects on farmland wildlife of growing GM herbicide tolerant crops in direct comparison with current farming practice. It is one of the largest ecological studies of its kind in the world.

  The programme is overseen by a Scientific Steering Committee, which includes representatives from English Nature, RSPB, and the Game Conservancy Council.

  Ecological monitoring is conducted by a consortium of independent research organisations led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and including the Institute of Arable Crop Research and the Scottish Crop Research Institute.

  Under the terms of a formal agreement reached between Government and SCIMAC in November 1999, there will be no move to widespread commercial cultivation of GM crops in the UK until completion of the farm-scale evaluations following harvest of crops planted in 2002. Through this process, industry has voluntarily put its technology out to independent scientific scrutiny—over and above any regulatory requirements. No other agricultural technology has ever undergone such a comprehensive programme of testing and evaluation.

  Within the farm-scale evaluations, the Scientific Steering Committee has specified that data will be required from 60 to 75 sites per crop over the three years of the programme. Four GM herbicide tolerant crops are involved—spring oilseed rape, forage maize, beet and winter oilseed rape.

  Each field is planted with a GM crop in one half, an equivalent non-GM crop in the other half. Fields are selected to provide a representative spread for each crop in terms of geographical spread and farm type. Field sizes typically range between two and 10 hectares.

  None of the crops involved in this programme have yet received all the necessary consents and authorisations for food and feed use. As a result, no GM crops harvested in 2001 will enter the human food or animal feed chains.

8.  GM crops in the UK

  The first GM crops trials in the UK took place in 1987. Over the past 14 years well over 600 individual trials of these crops have taken place in a range of different crop species, at different locations throughout the UK.

9.  GM crops in other parts of the world

  Since the mid-1980s, there have been more than 50,000 field trials of GM crops in 45 countries around the world. More than 60 different crop species have been modified.

  In commercial terms, the rate of uptake for GM crops has far outstripped the introduction of any other new technology in agriculture. Following extensive safety evaluations over many years, more than 300 million acres have been grown commercially across North America, South America, Asia, Australasia and Europe. An estimated 300 million tonnes of GM crops have already been consumed by humans and animals around the world.

  To date there is no evidence of harmful effects from the commercial use of GM crop technology—in terms of food safety, feed safety or the environment. After 15 years of research in 81 separate studies, the European Commission recently confirmed that GM crops pose no new risks to human health or the environment. Indeed the Commission stated that GM crops, because they are developed using more precise technology and are subjected to greater regulatory scrutiny, are "probably even safer than conventional plants and foods."

10.  SCIMAC separation distances

  The crops involved in the farm-scale evaluations have already undergone a comprehensive safety assessment by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE). In ACRE's view, these crops can be grown safely without any separation distances.

  However, the SCIMAC stewardship programme aims to safeguard the integrity of GM and neighbouring non-GM crops. That means reducing the potential for any cross-pollination to an absolute minimum within a practical farming situation. Zero does not exist in nature, so no separation distance, however large, could offer a guarantee of zero cross-pollination.

  The distances specified by SCIMAC are based on well-established scientific knowledge of the characteristics of each crop species in terms of pollen distribution and cross-pollination. These are reinforced by practical experience over many years of growing certified seed crops to specified levels of genetic purity and identity.

  According to a review of existing scientific literature commissioned by MAFF in 2000, the SCIMAC separation distances will ensure that any potential cross-pollination is reduced to below one per cent under worst case conditions. In practice, the actual level of cross-pollination likely to occur within a normal farming situation will be significantly lower.

  The current SCIMAC separation distances are viewed as extremely precautionary and remain subject to continuous review. They will apply on a provisional basis in the context of the current trials, and pending the outcome of gene flow studies being conducted as part of the FSE process.

11.  GM crops and neighbouring farmers

  British agriculture is a diverse industry, producing a vast array of products, in different environments, by a range of different methods. But every farmer's objective is the cost-effective production of safe, wholesome food in sympathy with the environment. In the past, access to new technology has enabled farmers to achieve those objectives—GM crop technology may help farmers achieve them in future.

  The SCIMAC stewardship programme was established to support the effective integration of GM crop technology alongside existing forms of agriculture. Like the existing 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 safeguard the identity and integrity of the GM crop.

  Through this stewardship process, farmers as well as consumers can exercise a choice, and keep an open mind on the potential development of GM crop technology in this country.


December 2001

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