UK Considers Law to Punish Agbiotech Polluters

UK Considers Law to Punish Agbiotech Polluters

Law to save organic crops from GM fallout
By Colin Brown and Geoffrey Lean
Independent on Sunday
13 May 2001

New laws to protect organic farms from contamination by GM crops are
being drawn up by the Government in the wake of last week's disclosure
by The Independent on Sunday that Europe's biggest research centre for
chemical-free agriculture is threatened by an official trial.

Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, told MPs at a private meeting
last week that producers of GM crops could be made liable for any
organic or other farms damaged by their activities. The revelations in
the IoS caused a storm of protest. Campaigners staged a vigil to stop GM
seed being planted at a farm near the Henry Doubleday seedbank in the

The MPs were told by the minister that legislation to enforce "produce
liability" was being drafted. Mr Meacher was said to be angry that neither
he nor the official Scientific Steering Committee -- which approved the
inclusion of the site in the GM trails -- knew that the farm at Wolston
lay within two miles of the national organic seedbank.

The scientific committee, GM seed producers Aventis and Scimac (the
industry body overseeing the trials) were urged by Mr Meacher to abandon
the trial. Committee members are to give their reaction tomorrow, but
their chairman, Professor Christopher Pollock, is resisting the
minister's request.

That could lead to a trial of strength this week, putting Mr Meacher's
job on the line. Tony Blair has made it clear he believes that scientific
advances should not be stopped. Although he has insisted he is not
"anti-GM", Mr Meacher has publicly called for legislative powers
to force GM producers to inform neighbouring farms before they go
ahead with seed trials.

The Soil Association, which certifies organic farms, has written to the
Henry Doubleday centre warning that it will withdraw its licence from
any fields contaminated by GM pollen.

The new measures being considered could dramatically shift the balance
of power against GM firms. Jackie Lawrence, the Labour MP for Preseli,
Pembrokeshire -- where two trials were abandoned after local complaints
last week -- said: "Seed producers and farmers will think very carefully
indeed about whether or not they are going to plant GM crops if they are
going to have to pay."
Independent, UK
Government advisers split over GM trials
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
12 May 2001

A split has developed between the Government's GM crops advisers over
plans to grow genetically modified maize near Europe's biggest organic
farming research centre on the outskirts of Coventry.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, for two years a key ally
of the Government in its programme of farm-scale trials of GM crops, is
threatening to walk off the scientific steering committee overseeing the
trials unless the maize site, close to the internationally renowned Henry
Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) organic gardens at Ryton,
is abandoned. The choice of the site hasn greatly angered the organic
farming movement and green groups.

The RSPB wants the steering committee to recommend immediately
withdrawing the site from the trials programme. But other committee
members, including English Nature, say the commitee has no power to do
so. The committee chairman, Professor Christopher Pollock, is understood
to agree.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's director of conservation, said last night: "If
we are isolated we will have to consider our position on the committee."

If the RSPB resigns, it will deal a damaging blow to the political and
environmental credibility of the farm-scale trials, which are under
fierce attack from more radical green groups.

The trials are a three-year programme designed to test the effect on
wildlife of the new and more powerful weedkillers that GM crops are
genetically engineered to withstand. The Government argues the whole
purpose of the trials is to gather information that might lead to the
commercial growing of GM crops being banned as harmful to the
environment. The RSPB has agreed with this.

But Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth argue that the very act of
releasing GM crops into the environment on a large scale poses an
unacceptable contamination risk.

The RSPB has been criticised for supporting the trials and undoubtedly
now feels that the latest move is simply too much. Certainly, the
selection by the GM industry of a trial plot near the HDRA, which has
one of the world's foremost organic seed banks, has provoked
incredulity and outrage in equal measure from environmentalists. "It has
displayed political ineptitude of a very high order," one source close
to the Government said yesterday. It was highlighted last week by The
Independent on Sunday.

The site, less than two miles from the HDRA, is due to be planted with
maize genetically engineered by the biotech giant Aventis. The HDRA
fears its organic maize could be cross-contaminated by pollen from the
GM maize and that it could consequently lose its organic accreditation.
"That would be catastrophic for us," said the director, Alan Gear.

The Environment minister Michael Meacher says the new site is
unacceptable but considers he has no power in law to stop the crops
being grown there. He has written to the GM industry body, SCIMAC, to
Aventis, and to the scientific steering committee asking them if they
think the site can be withdrawn.

Aventis was unavailable for comment yesterday but Roger Turner, chairman
of SCIMAC, said: "We accept it is a sensitive site." SCIMAC is likely to
make a decision next week.

Jeff Rooker, MAFF minister of state for food safety in the House of Commons,
30th July 1998:

"I accept the argument that genetic modification is not simply speeding up
the natural process. It cannot be when genes are mixed from different
species. There is some comfort in the regulatory process for medicine
which, I admit, is not in place for food and agriculture....."

"I want to make it absolutely clear that my Ministry and the Department of
the Environment, Transport and the Regions will be working with the farming
community and representatives of organic farming to ensure that the
expansion of organic farming is not compromised by the introduction of
genetically modified crops. I might have rambled in my introduction and
deviated from my brief, but I want to make it clear that that is the most
important sentence that I shall say this evening. I genuinely mean that -
those are not words to be put in Hansard and forgotten about; I shall follow

".All that does not gainsay what I have said about our desire to ensure that
the introduction of GMOs on a trial basis, an experimental basis, or even a
full-crop basis, in no way damages organic farming. Given the extremely
tight public expenditure restrictions to which we are subject as part of our
contract with the electorate, it would be stupid for the Government to push
more money into converting to organic farming while allowing the farmers who
take that brave step to be damaged by other actions within the process that
I have described..."

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