UK: Govt backing GM crops by hook or by crook Print E-mail
 London -- Friday October 20, 2006

Defra accused of introducing GM through back door

By Andy McSmith

Public opposition to GM crops is being overridden by a government determined to back the industry, Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, has claimed.

His remarks came yesterday in response to the launch of a government consultation over whether GM crops can "co-exist" with non-GM crops in the British countryside. Those who want to take part must have their answers in by today.

Early GM experiments met huge opposition in the UK, with the result that no GM crops have been grown commercially in Britain. The same is true through most of Europe, and environmental groups claimed yesterday that what the government is now proposing could be illegal under EU law.

But the government's view is that there is "no scientific case" for a total ban. Mr Meacher, and other campaigners, suspect that the Environment Secretary, David Miliband, is looking for a way to overcome public opposition.

"This consultation is the Government's latest attempt to back the GM industry over the wishes of the British public," Mr Meacher claimed. "Instead of paving the way for GM crops to be grown in England, David Miliband must take on board the thousands of responses rejecting the Government's GM contamination plans and put in place policies that protect GM-free food and truly promise his vision of sustainable farming."

Three pressure groups yesterday published a legal opinion claiming that the government plans are "fundamentally flawed".

The opinion said that Mr Miliband's department is wrong to assume that it is permitted under EU law to seek to "minimise" rather than "avoid" the risk that other crops will be contaminated if there are GM crops growing nearby.

They also say that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was wrong to think that EU law does not require it to publish a register of sites where GM crops are grown, and to assume that gardeners and allotment holders do not have a right under EU law to know whether GM crops are being grown near their land. The legal opinion was prepared for Friends of the Earth, The Soil Association and GM Freeze.

Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said: "The Government's proposals to deny organic and other farmers the choice of staying free of GM contamination break their repeated promises."

Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "Government proposals for rules that allow GM crops to be grown alongside conventional and organic crops are a thinly veiled attempt to introduce GM crops through the back door. Allowing routine, unlabelled, GM contamination of conventional and organic crops is not only unacceptable to the public, it is legally flawed."

GM Freeze director Pete Riley said: "The Government appears to be willing to rewrite EU law."