GM crop opposition scaled down
Oct 23 2001
By Jamie Lyons, Press Association

The Welsh Assembly was today forced to scale down its opposition to GM crops in the face of a threatened fine of £300 million from Europe.  Members approved new regulations after being warned refusal to do so could result in legal proceedings from Europe.  They approved directives aimed at consolidating the internal market on seeds and introducing new safeguards on genetically-modified plant varieties.

The approval came despite Plaid Cymru's insistence that the Assembly should stand firm in its opposition to GM crops.  The Lib-Lab coalition has pledged to press for a moratorium on all GM crop trials in Wales.  That policy is in line with the Assembly's expressed desire to operate the most restrictive policy possible on future commercial GM crop developments within the context of existing EU legislation.

Welsh rural affairs minister Carwyn Jones said the Assembly had taken a

principled stand, but had to back down.

“The Welsh Assembly has taken a strong and principled opposition to farm-scale trials in Wales.

“We are carrying a burden with us. In the absence of approval of these regulations we are in breach of community law.

“We must bear in mind the fact that the wolves are at the door, we will end up with infraction proceedings, we will have to pay that fine. That is not something we can properly say to the people of Wales we are prepared to do.

“We have taken it as far as it can go, there are other avenues that are being pursued on behalf of the Welsh Assembly.”

The deadline for implementing the directives into member states was February 1, last year.  Because of the Assembly's action the UK is now in breach of its EU obligations. Since the Assembly last debated the issue infraction proceedings have been launched against the UK Government. The Government has told the Welsh Assembly it will not intervene and it is up to Cardiff to act.

Mr Jones warned: “Continued failure to comply leaves the Assembly at risk of a very serious financial penalty backdated to February 1.

“The European Commission has indicated that the Assembly stands liable to pay a fine of up to 500,000 euros a day backdated to February. That means something in the region of £300 million to this day which this Assembly would be liable to pay.”

Mr Jones insisted the move would not damage the Assembly's stance on genetically-modified crops.  Plaid Cymru voted against the approval. There was further condemnation from the Conservative eurosceptic chief whip David Davies.  He said it was outrageous that the Assembly was being forced to take action that it did not support because of pressure from Europe.