GM crops: timeline

Key events in the development of GM crops in the USA and attempts to introduce them to Britain and Europe.

1976 US company Monsanto launches its herbicide RoundUp
1980 US Supreme Court rules that genetically engineered micro-organisms are patentable. Spinks report recommends UK government investment in biotechnology research.
1981 US Office of Technology Assessment recommends investment in developing GM crops, and predicts that salt-tolerant and nitrogen-fixing crops will be developed.
1983 First GM tobacco plant created.
1984 The First Framework Programme (1984-1987) introduces the long-term planning of research activities at an EU level.
1985 US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) decides that GM plants are patentable. GM crop field trials begin.
1987 The Single European Act explicitly gives the EC formal power in the fields of research and technology. UK National Seed Development Organisation and a large part of the Plant Breeding Institute sold to Unilever.
1988 First draft EC Directive on patenting biotechnological inventions is published, following a proposal from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
1993 US Food and Drug Administration adopts approvals process for GM foods, declaring them "not inherently dangerous". UK Government science White Paper: 'Realising our Potential'.
1994 In the UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) replaces the Agriculture and Food Research Council (AFRC). The first GM food, Zeneca's Flavr Savr GM tomato, appears on the market in the USA.
1995 UK Government 'Biotechnology Means Business' initiative.
1996 First commercial plantings of Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant GM soy in USA, engineered to be resistant to its own-brand herbicide RoundUp. Flavr Savr GM tomato paste is sold, and then withdrawn, in the UK. Monsanto's Roundup Ready Soya is given import authorization in the EU and the first shipments begin to arrive, where they are mixed, unlabelled with non-GM soy used in processed foods.
1997 Protests against GM soy imports begin in UK. Blair Government elected with financial support from leading biotech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Novartis' GM maize is given approval for import and cultivation in the EU. Austria and Luxembourg immediately ban it. New EU 'Novel Foods Regulation' comes into force meaning GM foods must be assessed for safety and labeled.
1998 EC Directive 98/44/EC on the 'Legal Protection of Biotechnological Inventions' is finally adopted, with support from the Blair Government, allowing gene patenting. UK Treasury identifies biotechnology as a key area for investment. Iceland becomes the first UK supermarket to ban GM ingredients from their own brand products. UK Government announces a voluntary agreement with industry not to grow GM crops commercially in the UK until a series of 'farm-scale trials' are carried out. Greece and France ban cultivation of some GM crops approved by the EU. UK field trials of GM oilseed rape and maize attract opposition.
1999 Five EU Member States - Denmark, France, Greece Italy and Luxembourg - declare a de-facto moratorium on GM crops until the EU Commission introduces legislation for traceability and labelling of GM crops and foods. US begins pressurising the EU, via the WTO, to break the moratorium. In Scotland, Professor Arpad Pusztai is sacked after raising health concerns about GM foods, following experiments in rats. UK Science minister Lord Sainsbury's report on 'biotechnology clusters'. DTI's 'Genome Valley' report claims high economic potential and strategic importance for biotechnology in the UK. Major UK supermarkets and food manufacturers begin removing GM ingredients from foods and products from shelves. UK Farm scale trials of three herbicide-tolerant GM crops (maize, oilseed rape and sugar beet) begin.
2000 Herbicide-resistant superweeds begin to be a problem for US farmers growing herbicide-tolerant GM crops. Germany, Austria and Italy ban several GM maize crops that have been approved by the EU. Starlink GM Maize - approved for use in the US only for animal consumption - is found in taco shells sold in the US.
2001 France, Austria, Finland, Luxembourg Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands and Sweden all reject the Commission's plans to restart the GMO approval process, insisting that the traceability and labelling regulations must be in place before the moratorium is lifted. Blair gives a major speech on science to the Royal Society in London, attacking critics of GM crops.
2002 UK Government announces it will hold a public consultation exercise on GM crops, and produce reports on the science and economics.
2003 "GM Nation?" public consultation exercise in UK. USA, Argentina, and Canada make a request to the Chairman of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body for consultations with the EU. President George Bush publicly attacks the EU's moratorium on GM crops and food. New EU regulations adopted, covering the authorisation, traceability and labelling of GM foods.
2004 Results of the farm scale evaluations are published, showing harm to wildlife (due to changed herbicide use) for two crops (oilseed rape and sugar beet). UK government approves GM maize for commercial growing but the company then withdraws. GM crops produced by Syngenta and Monsanto become the first approvals for import to the EU since 1998.
2005 Interim WTO ruling against the EU. Despite the interim ruling, the EU allows Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, France and Greece to maintain bans on GM varieties of oil seed rape and maize, imposed on public safety and environmental grounds.
2006 The WTO's Dispute Panel determines that Europe's moratorium on GM crop and food approvals between 1998-2004 contravened trade rules, on the grounds that the EU had not followed its own approvals process.
2007 Scottish Government adopts GM free policy. UK Government begins attempt to bring GM crops back to Britain. EU 'Plants for the Future' Technology Platform launched in collaboration with industry body EuropaBio to increase research funding for GM crops.
2008 UK press publishes repeated articles claiming GM crops are needed to "feed the world".
2009 The Welsh Assembly Government reiterates its commitment to maximizing restrictions on cultivation of GM crops. Royal Society 'Reaping the Benefits' report calls for more research funding for agriculture, including GM crops, as part of the 'sustainable intensification' of agriculture. Food Standards Agency sets up a steering group to begin a new GM dialogue in the UK, at the request of the Prime Minister.
2010 European Commission approves BASF's 'Amflora' GM potato for commercial starch production (the first cultivation approval for 12 years). UK GM dialogue abandoned, following the resignation of two steering group members. EU begins to debate controversial new proposals to allow national bans on GM crops whilst speeding up GM crop approvals at a European level. Many member states object.
2011 EU allows low levels of unauthorized GM crops to enter in animal feed, with support from UK Government. Discussions over national bans on GM crops within the EU continue.

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