Maximising restrictions on GM crops in Wales
2.Welsh Assembly Statement on GM crops
1.Alliance welcomes Minister's GM statement
GM-free Cymru (Wales, UK), 25 February 2009
Today's statement by Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones has been welcomed by GM Free Cymru and the GM Free Wales Alliance (1), since it confirmed that Wales would continue to implement the most restrictive GM policies in the United Kingdom, designed to keep Wales effectively free of GM crops.
The Minister announced that the draft Coexistence Regulations, due to go out for consultation within the coming weeks, will include provisions for:
*imposing strict liability on GM crop growers and introducing a voluntary industry-funded compensation scheme;
*a statutory redress mechanism where harm is suffered;
*GM-free zones which might coincide with local authority areas, depending on the wishes of local people;
*a ban on GM crop cultivation in statutory conservation areas such as national parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs);
*a statutory and freely accessible national register of all planned and actual GM crop plantings;
*a "statutory requirement to inform all neighbours and landowners" to ensure that GM crops were kept a sufficient distance away from other crops;
*significant isolation distances between GM and non-GM crops and buffer zones incorporating pollen barriers or traps;
*a requirement placed on producers to keep records and to train all staff handling GM crops.
She also emphasized the role of the precautionary principle in Welsh policy relating to GM, and stressed the importance of science-based assessments of risks, benefits, and health and safety issues. The members of the Alliance have written to the Minister to commend her approach, and also to congratulate her on recognizing that social, economic and even political factors do have a role to play in GM decision-making, as recognized by the EU Environment Council on 4th December last year (2).
Commenting on the plans, spokesman Dr Brian John said: "We have been waiting for these draft regulations for some time, and we are pleased that the Minister is using the powers delegated to Wales to bring in a much more restrictive GM regime than they have in England. That is entirely in tune with the wishes of the people of Wales, and we hope that the Assembly Government will now get cross-party support. The Government has correctly identified a considerable competitive advantage for Welsh farming that will flow from GM Free status. We accept that the Assembly Government does not have the power to declare Wales as "a GM Free country" since we do not have full national status within the EU. But large parts of Wales can be kept free of GM crops through the use of legal measures. We are delighted that protected areas including national parks will be protected from GM contamination of valuable habitats; and that local communities will be given the right to declare themselves GM Free.
"We hope that the draft regulations will complement those of the Environmental Liability Directive (3) which will soon be brought into law. What we want to see is a situation in which anybody who does want to grown GM crops in Wales will have to accept a very strict regulatory regime and full liability for compensating neighbours and paying for damage in the event of GM "trespass." There must be openness and transparency across the board -- and we hope that there will never again be any murky or secretive GM plantings such as that which has recently occurred in the Brecon area, causing tremendous local distress."
GM Free Cymru
(1) The members of the GM Free Wales Alliance are GM Free Cymru, the National Federation of Women's Institutes (Wales), FoE Cymru, and FUW [Farmers Union of Wales].
(2) On 4th December the Environment Council of the EU made a number of significant changes to the assessment process for GM foods and crops in Europe. The "Coexistence Proposals" for Wales are modelled on the corporate wishes of the EU Environment Ministers, and on their unanimously agreed statement.
(3) The Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (Wales) Regulations are designed to implement the European Environmental Liability Directive, which seeks to ensure that in contamination incidents the "polluter pays" principle is applied effectively. The Regulations have been through the public consultation phase, and are due for formal adoption by the Assembly within the next few weeks.
2.Welsh Assembly Statement on GM crops
Welsh Assembly Plenary, 24 February 2009
The Minister for Rural Affairs (Elin Jones): The Welsh Assembly Government's precautionary approach to genetically modified crop commercialisation is underlined through our 'One Wales' commitment to maximise restrictions on GM crops in Wales. This position has been supported by a long-standing consensus across all parties in the National Assembly. Members will be familiar with the fact that we have no powers to ban GM crops and that our position has been to adopt the most restrictive policy compatible with our legal obligations.
A report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development published in April 2008 supports a precautionary approach to GM. The report is the product of contributions from more than 400 scientists from around the world. These experts continue to debate the potential benefits and threats of GM with research showing that there have been variable yield gains and declines. The report warned that the assessment of this technology is lagging behind the process of its development, thereby increasing our uncertainty about the risks to the environment, human health and our economy.
Our precautionary approach therefore remains unchanged and, today, I am announcing my plans to undertake a full public consultation on co- existence arrangements. The European Commission has stated that no form of agriculture, whether GM, traditional, or organic, should be excluded in the European Union. I therefore intend to publish a public consultation in a few weeks' time setting out proposals to put in place co-existence arrangements between GM, traditional and conventional crops in Wales.
Co-existence refers to the ability of farmers to make a practical choice between GM, conventional and organic crop production, in compliance with the legal obligations for labelling and purity criteria. The possibility of the presence of GM crops in conventional and organic crops cannot be dismissed, and may have commercial implications for the farmers whose crops are affected. Consequently, suitable measures during cultivation, harvest, transport, storage and processing are necessary to ensure co-existence. Co-existence measures aim to protect farmers of conventional and organic crops from the possible economic disadvantages of accidental contamination by GM crops.
Our restrictive stance on GM crop cultivation in Wales can be seen through the approach that we intend to take on the implementation of the GM aspects of the environmental liability directive. The directive is aimed at preventing significant environmental damage by forcing businesses that pollute to pay for the costs of prevention and remediation. Following our public consultation on the environmental liability directive last year, the proposals that we have made in relation to the GM aspects of the directive will shortly be put into effect through domestic legislation. This will give added protection to our environment in Wales by making the growers and biotechnology companies, namely the permit holders, responsible for any unforeseeable damage to the environment that a GM crop might cause.
The intention is for co-existence to be tightly regulated in Wales. Our proposed measures will be more restrictive than those proposed in England and Northern Ireland. I would like to take a few moments to outline some of the key features of our co-existence proposals.
On seed thresholds, we will seek views on whether the present 0.1 per cent default seed threshold should be retained, as in many EU member states, where separation distances have been established on that basis.
On liability, we will include options for imposing strict liability on GM crop growers and introducing a voluntary industry-funded compensation scheme. Consideration may also be given to an option for a statutory redress mechanism.
On GM-free zones, we will seek views on the desirability of a statutory prohibition on GM crop cultivation in all statutory conservation areas. On a GM crop register, we will propose a statutory national register with public access. To grow GM crops will require registration with the Welsh Assembly Government three months prior to planting. In addition to the implicit need for consultation with neighbours, in order to ensure compliance with separation distances, it is also proposed that there will be a statutory requirement to inform people living in the vicinity and neighbouring landowners. It is proposed that record keeping should be a statutory requirement for GM producers, as will training for all on-farm handlers who have any intent to grow GM crops.
The field measures that I will be proposing are based on our average arable field size in Wales of fewer than 3 ha. I will also propose significant isolation distances between GM and non-GM crops and buffer zones, incorporating pollen barriers or traps. I am conscious that a growing world population, climate change and increasing food costs have given rise to concerns regarding future food security. The debate on the potential role that GM crops have to play in meeting food security has increased. I do not believe that there is any clear evidence that GM crops do have a role to play. However, all parties in the Chamber will, no doubt, be reflecting in depth on this debate.
My officials continue to liaise proactively with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in relation to the DEFRA-managed England-and-Wales research and development budget. This includes GM and sustainable food and farming programmes. My officials are also engaged with the UK Government's Foresight programme, which includes land use and food security. The Welsh Assembly Government will continue to review evidence, as we do in all policy areas, to ensure that our approach to GM remains informed and takes into account new and emerging evidence.
Current evidence supports the continuation of a precautionary approach and it is my intention to maintain as restrictive a policy approach to GM as is possible within our legal obligations. I look forward to receiving comments on the proposals for co-existence arrangements, which will help us to put in place an appropriate regime to control any future GM crop development in Wales.