Genetically Modified Cropland Could Fall in Value
Sites Planted with GM Crops May Fall in Value
EXPERTS have warned the Government that farmers who plant genetically modified crops risk a fall in land values similar to the effect of an outbreak of disease or contamination. A new report also warns that tenant farmers could face picking up the bill for any shortfall in the price suffered by the landowner.(Publisher's note -- this article combines text from two recent news stories that appeared in the UK.)
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has sent a report to the Office of Science and Technology and several other government departments calling for the setting up of a land register, through which potential buyers and banks could find out if and when GM crops had been grown on a particular holding. Environmentalists have backed the RICS and warned of disastrous consequences for British agriculture if the Government presses ahead with commercial-scale GM crop trials.
Ministers up to the level of Jack Cunningham in the Cabinet office are known to be taking the report very seriously. The RICS is one of the largest professional bodies in the world and its 74,000 members manage most of the land in the United Kingdom.
The RICS document states: "The growing of GM crops on let land could conceivably be deemed a breach of terms of the tenancy agreement under the requirements to farm in accordance with the rules of good husbandry. This may affect the value of the landlord's interest and tenants could face claims for dilapidations."
This effectively means tenant farmers may be sued by their landlords for the shortfall in price as a result of growing GM crops. Peter Faulkner, the president of the RICSís rural practice division, said: "Banks and purchasers want to know where GM crops have been grown. In the event there turns out to be a problem with GM crops, banks may come back to our members and say the collateral has gone down and no mention was made before the sale that these crops were there."
Mr Faulkner said the presence of GM crops was as relevant to purchasing a piece of land as any past contamination, location close to slag heaps or a history of crop disease."These are conditions which affect the market -- we do not get into the whole GM crop debate, but our customers dictate the market and we must work with it," he said. "Having said that, the issue of transgenic crops -- those engineered in a way which nature simply could not replicate -- could offer an even bigger challenge to the industry because nobody knows what the effect will be. I think a lot of farmers will take a very conservative and cautious view of these types of crops."
The RICS report said a register was necessary to ensure GM crops do not lead to more financial hardship for the farming industry. It says: "The BSE crisis has shown that the lack of adequate records hampered the industry's attempt to win back consumer confidence."
Henry Murdoch, chairman of the environment and land use committee of the National Farmers' Union Scotland, said "I think anybody who was asked to grow GM crops today would say no because it would be commercial suicide, until the perception is better. We are still recovering from the BSE crisis and we need a few years of stability to regain consumer confidence in the product."
Kevin Dunion, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "This is a frightening new angle to the whole GM debate. Not only is our countryside facing the spectre of genetic pollution, but it could also prove to be the death knell for our entire farming industry. FoE Scotland fully supports the RICS in its call for a freely available land register."
Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on GM foods, said: "The threat to land values is just one of the many unanswered questions the RICS has raised. Simply having your neighbour growing GM crops could have an effect on land values because of cross pollination -- and the latest studies show that this could affect crops up to half a mile away. It all goes to support our view that we should be proceeding very slowly with this and certainly should not allow ourselves to be stampeded by huge American food technology companies."
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