KEY ISSUES BRIEFING
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
Crop Protection Association (CPA)
National Farmers Union (NFU)
UK Agricultural Supply Trade Association
British Sugar Beet Seed Producers
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
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 agricultureboth
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 expertsthe 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
Only after all these regulatory hurdles have
been cleared can a GM crop be finally approved for commercial
4. SCIMAC activities
SCIMAC's role is essentially two-fold:
(i) Industry StewardshipSCIMAC
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 EvaluationsSCIMAC
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 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,
Operator training and competence
Seed storage and planting guidelines
Crop separation distances
Crop management and herbicide use
Harvesting and post-harvest management
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
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 scrutinyover
and above any regulatory requirements. No other agricultural technology
has ever undergone such a comprehensive programme of testing and
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 involvedspring 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 technologyin 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
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 objectivesGM 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
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.