GM crops get the go-ahead
Earlier this year The Sunday Times revealed that [British] ministers wanted to kill off plans by Brussels to bring in a comprehensive regime for labelling GM foods because they fear "negative fallout" from Washington.
GM crops get the go-ahead
David Cracknell, Political Editor
The Sunday Times, September 21, 2003
MINISTERS are poised to approve the commercial growing of genetically modified crops in Britain, according to leaked cabinet papers.
Confidential letters between senior ministers disclose that the government is to back new Brussels rules banning GM-free zones and allowing the "co-existence" of GM with conventional crops.
The revelation comes ahead of the publication next month of long-awaited results of GM crop trials in Britain. The studies are expected to show that the growing of some GM crops could be allowed under regulated conditions.
Tony Blair and Lord Sainsbury, the science minister, are known to be keen on the benefits of GM, dubbed "Frankenstein crops" by critics. David Hill, Downing Street's new director of communications, is a former adviser to Monsanto, the American GM giant.
The disclosure will fuel concerns of anti-GM campaigners that the Brussels rules will be used by Blair to open the floodgates for the crops to be grown commercially in Britain.
Michael Meacher, the former environment minister and opponent of GM who was sacked in June, has warned against the introduction of GM crops.
He says the government has not proved that they are safe and warns that their introduction will contaminate organic farms, potentially destroying one of Britain's main agricultural growth markets.
A letter from Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, to cabinet colleagues reveals that she will support European Union proposals at a meeting of EU agriculture ministers at the end of the month.
"I am proposing that we broadly support the (European) commission's guidelines as providing a reasonable basis to address the issue," she wrote on September 5.
She attaches a summary of the EU rules, which state that "no form of agriculture (conventional, organic, GM) should be excluded from the EU".
"Co-existence measures should be developed and implemented by member states because farming patterns across the EU are so diverse," the letter adds.
It also refers to the EU's proposal to stop governments imposing GM-free areas, an idea favoured by the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales and some English councils. This month the commission refused a plea by the Upper Austria region to outlaw genetically modified crops for three years.
"Our interests are best served by giving broad support to the commission guidelines," Beckett says. "They also reflect the general principles that I envisage we will want to apply - ie that any co-existence measures should be evidence-based, practical and proportionate, and should seek to balance the interests of all farmers."
Beckett's letter was addressed to Jack Straw, the foreign secretary. Blair, Straw and Patricia Hewitt, the trade secretary, are also keen not to upset Britain's relations with America, the world's largest grower of commercial crops.
A five-year moratorium by the EU on genetically modified crops, which expires this year and will not be renewed, has caused friction with America, which launched a legal action claiming it was in breach of world trade rules.
Beckett adds: "We oppose any argument that the de facto moratorium on GM approvals should be maintained until legislative action has been taken on co-existence at either EU or national level."
Hewitt, in a reply, concurs.
"I agree that our interests are best served by giving broad support to the commission guidelines. We must also bear in mind the potential impact (on) EU-US relations."
Earlier this year The Sunday Times revealed that ministers wanted to kill off plans by Brussels to bring in a comprehensive regime for labelling GM foods because they fear "negative fallout" from Washington.
This week the government will announce the results of a public consultation on the GM technology. Opinion polls show that 70% of the European public do not want genetically modified food and 94% want to be able to choose whether or not they eat it.