12 February 2003
MINISTER PLEDGES REDRESS FOR GM HARM / 'SLOW START' TO GM DEBATE
What could be more reassuring?
"There were three studies to be completed before the government made up its mind. First, the chief scientific adviser, David King, was leading a review of scientific literature, advised by the food standards agency."
for more on the FSA and its rabidly pro-GM anti-organic agenda:
1.Minister pledges redress for GM harm
2.'Slow start' to GM debate
Minister pledges redress for GM harm
Organic and conventional crops set to win protection
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Wednesday February 12, 2003
Organic and conventional farmers should have the right to compensation if their crops are damaged or made unsellable by cross pollination from neighbouring GM fields, the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said yesterday.
At present farmers who choose to grow genetically modified crops have no liability if they damage a neighbour's livelihood. Mr Meacher said this could not continue and the government was considering changing the law. The European commission was drafting legislation to make farmers and GM seed companies liable if they damaged biodiversity or human health, but this did not cover the fact that GM crops might affect the economic interests of non-GM farmers, he said.
A committee was considering what extra domestic legislation might be needed. Speaking at a conference exploring whether commercial GM crops should be introduced into Britain, he said the absence of a legal right of redress had to be addressed before production began.
"We need to consider how best to protect the interests of all farmers, including organic farmers," he said.
"Our approach to GM must be compatible with the government's ambitions for the expansion of organic farming: to increase the UK's market share of organic produce sold in the UK from 30 per cent to 70 per cent. We need to consider the terms upon which GM and non-GM production might co-exist. This might include establishing separation distances to limit cross-pollination." The conference was organised by Genewatch UK, in association with the Guardian, Unilever, the Elm Farm Research Centre and the campaign group Five Year Freeze.
Mr Meacher conceded that the government's plans for public debate on GM crops before it decides whether to go ahead with commercial growing were behind schedule. One problem was that the Scottish and Welsh administrations were out of step with Westminster and wanted extra time for debate.
He believed the government had addressed the complaint that the public consultation was underfunded, having added £155,000 to the money available, making it more than £400,000.
He accepted that "the public generally lack trust in the government, and fear that the debate may be no more than a PR exercise". He also accepted that the public wanted to explore why GM was necessary, why it was potentially useful, and why it should be avoided.
There were three studies to be completed before the government made up its mind.
First, the chief scientific adviser, David King, was leading a review of scientific literature, advised by the food standards agency.
Second, the No 10 strategy unit was making a comprehensive and balanced analysis of costs and benefits, including the potential positive and negative impacts on human health, the environment, industry and science, and the effect on developing countries.
Third, a three-year farm-scale evaluation programme was looking at the effect of GM crops on insects, weeds and biodiversity generally, compared with standard farming methods. There would be public discussion of the results before a decision on whether to go ahead with GM crops.
A second conference was held at the Royal Society to discuss the scientific issues. Lord May, the president, said it had been called because a great deal had been heard about the possible dangers of GM and not enough about the potential benefits.
The conference discussed whether the technology could help reduce the environmental damage caused by modern farming practices, and the fears of a long-term impact.
2.'Slow start' to GM debate
Environment Minister Michael Meacher has admitted that a public debate on the issues surrounding genetically modified crops has got off to a slow start.
But Mr Meacher insisted there was sufficient funding for the consultation, despite claims to the contrary by the independent chairman in charge of organising it.
The minister also stressed that no policy decision would be made about GM until the debate was under way.
He was speaking as two major conferences open on Tuesday to consider whether GM crops should be grown on a commercial scale in the UK.
Last summer Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said she hoped the public would "reach their own judgments" on GM by taking part in the debate.
But last week, Professor Malcolm Grant, the man with the job of getting the public talking about GM food, urged the government to delay the start of the debate because of his "deep concerns" about the amount of cash behind the study.
Professor Grant, chairman of the independent Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, said ministers had offered to "double the budget" for the debate, provided Scotland and Wales could be included in it.
But the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly did "not want to get mixed up" in a public debate in the run up to their elections on 1 May, he said. The result of delaying the start of the debate until after the elections would be that results from the crop trials would become part of the discussions, he said.
Mr Meacher conceded that "the debate is getting under way slower than we would have wished", but he argued that there was sufficient cash for it. "The government did originally announce ?250,000 for the debate last year. The steering board came to us and asked for more. We have offered an extra GBP155,000," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"We agreed also to cover the Central Office of Information fee, which effectively means a net increase of about ?200,000 - nearly doubling it. "Our belief is that this is sufficient to deliver a credible debate, though we are still trying to establish if we can offer more."
Mr Meacher said the government wanted to "give people an opportunity to have genuine discussions" about GM, because the debate had been "extremely polarised".
The exercise has three strands. These include the public debate, managed by Prof Grant's steering board, plus a study of the costs and benefits of GM, undertaken by the prime minister's strategy unit.
Mr Meacher said this would involve "a no GM scenario - it will be an open process".
There is also a scientific review to identify where there is consensus and also where there is disagreement.
The report on the debate is expected in June.
Sue Meyer, director of anti-GM pressure group GeneWatch, said she hoped the debate would be "special" have "real substance" and "perhaps change how we do democracy".
But Dr Meyer said she did not believe the government's offers of cash for the debate met its own estimates of what the exercise will cost.