Austrian minister "ecstatic" / UK minister "confused and irrational"
2.Move for Wales to be hardest place in world to grow GM crops
3.European nations win right to ban GM crops
EXTRACT: "I'm ecstatic I feel as if Austria has become the European Cup winner in soccer" - Austria's environment minister Nikolaus Berlakovich yesterday, after European Union environment ministers voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing both Austria and Hungary to keep their national bans on cultivation of the genetically-modified maize Mon810.
"I cannot recognise the product from Monsanto as added value for society”¦ the company is forcing dependency on German farmers" - Germany's environment minister Siegmar Gabriel (item 3)
PLANS to make Wales the most difficult place on the planet to grow genetically modified crops have been outlined by Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones. (item 2)
1.HILARY BENN IS "INCAPABLE OF JOINED-UP THINKING" ON GM CROPS AND FOODS
GM Free Cymru, 2 March 2009
The Secretary of State for the Environment has been accused of confused and irrational behaviour on the matter of GM crops and foods, following today's bizarre UK vote in the Council of Ministers (1). The UK, as ever, voted with the Commission for the bans on a GM maize called MON810 to be overturned in Austria and Hungary. In the event, the UK vote counted for little, and by a large majority the Environment Ministers snubbed the Commission by agreeing that the two countries could maintain their bans on scientific grounds and in pursuance of the precautionary principle.
This vote by the Environment Council was entirely logical, since the Ministers agreed (2) on 4th December 2008 that national bans on GM crops would be respected; that GMO risk assessment in the EU is not fulfilling legal requirements and must be improved; that long term impacts of GMO releases have not been properly assessed; that independent scientific opinion should be taken into account; and that crops such as those being voted on today should also be assessed under EU pesticide laws because of the toxins they release.
Speaking for GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "It beggars belief that Mr Benn should sign up for the unanimous statement by the EU's Environment Ministers on 4th December, and then vote with the Commission today. This is the second time this year that he has voted with the Commission for GMO releases, demonstrating either a lack of good faith or a very short memory. When are we going to get some joined-up thinking in DEFRA? The Precautionary Principle demands caution when there are scientific issues outstanding, and the wishes and aspirations of countries like Austria and Hungary should be respected."
NGOs also claim that Mr Benn and his civil servants are, for the second time this year, breaking the "Concordat" which exists between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland -- by which voting positions on GM matters are supposed to be agreed in advance by all four "competent authorities", with the wishes of the majority being respected (3). It is clear from Ministerial statements that the three devolved administrations are taking a very cautious line on GM matters, and that they are broadly sympathetic with those countries who want outstanding health and safety issues resolved before any more GM approvals are given in Europe. "Over and again within the last few years Mr Benn has betrayed his partners in this Concordat by voting against their wishes," says Dr John. "This is the clearest possible demonstration of the fact that the Government wants more GM crops and foods in the UK, come hell or high water, whatever the science may show, and regardless of what the people of
Britain may want."
Dr Brian John
Right to national GMO bans upheld: European Commission defeated
(2) Unanimous Council Conclusions on Genetically Modified Organisms
(GMOs), Environment Council meeting, Brussels, 4 December 2008
(3) The Concordat which is supposed to guide GM matters and represent agreed positions between the four UK competent authorities is here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2007/04/GMConcordat
2.Move for Wales to be hardest place in world to grow GM crops
Western Mail, Mar 3 2009
PLANS to make Wales the most difficult place on the planet to grow genetically modified crops have been outlined by Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones.
Farmers growing them would have to inform all their neighbours and would be legally liable to compensate any of them whose own crops were contaminated. That polluter-pays principle in relation to GM crops exists nowhere else in the world.
The aim is to protect conventional crops from losing money because of GM contamination. But even as the minister outlined her proposals, the man who claimed he grew GM maize in secret last year told a public meeting he planned to do it again.
Jonathan Harrington, of Pen-y-Lan Farm, Tregoyd, near Hay-on-Wye, told an Institute of Welsh Affairs conference on science policy in Cardiff that he and up to 30 other farmers were preparing to defy both the Welsh government's policy and EU rules on growing GM crops.
Mr Harrington, who works for the GM industry lobby group CropGen, was speaking from the audience as Professor Denis Murphy of the University of Glamorgan accused the Welsh government of "backward" thinking.
Prof Murphy said: "What they are not doing is looking forward and looking out to the rest of the world. They are looking inwards to their little lobby groups in Wales instead of looking outwards."
Announcing the proposals last week, the minister reminded AMs that the Welsh Assembly Government's long-standing position, agreed unanimously by the National Assembly in 2000, is to adopt the most restrictive policy on GM crops compatible with European Union and UK legislation.
"It is not legally possible to declare Wales GM-free, but we will continue our restrictive approach," she said.
"The intention is for co-existence to be tightly regulated in Wales and our proposed measures will be more restrictive than those proposed in England and Northern Ireland."
They include imposing strict liability on GM crop growers and a voluntary, industry-funded compensation scheme. The GM industry has always refused to accept liability for any accidents or future problems.
A public consultation will also look at the possibility of GM free zones, statutory prohibition of GM crops in conservation areas such as national parks and sites of special scientific interest, and a GM crop register with public access. Farmers intending to grow GM crops will be required to register with the Welsh Assembly Government three months before planting.
Ms Jones said she wanted a statutory requirement to inform and consult all neighbours and landowners in order to ensure compliance with separation distances.
"I will also propose significant isolation distances between GM and non-GM crops and buffer zones incorporating pollen barriers or traps," she said.
The announcement was welcomed by Conservatives rural affairs spokesman Brynle Williams, who said: "The issues surrounding GM crops are controversial and the needs and wishes of farmers and communities must be considered."
But Mid and West Wales Labour AM Alun Davies accused the minister of taking an “antagonistic approach”.
Mr Davies said the proposed regulations could inhibit the work of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth.
"The current policy pursued by the Welsh Assembly Government will inhibit its ambition to be among the best in the world," he said.
"There is a direct contradiction between the stated ambition of the Government, which is to have an economy that is based on knowledge, and a policy that prevents the accumulation of knowledge.
Dr Brian John, spokesman for the GM Free Wales Alliance, which includes the Farmers' Union of Wales, Friends of the Earth Cymru and the National Federation of the Women's Institute in Wales, welcomed the proposals.
He 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.
"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."
He said anybody who wants to grow GM crops in Wales should have to accept a 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."
3.European nations win right to ban GM crops
Nature, March 3 2009
"I'm ecstatic I feel as if Austria has become the European Cup winner in soccer," exuded Austria's environment minister Nikolaus Berlakovich yesterday, after European Union environment ministers voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing both Austria and Hungary to keep their national bans on cultivation of the genetically-modified maize Mon810. The Wiener Zeitung (03.03.09) headlined: 'Triumph for Austria'.
The European Commission, on the other hand, was humiliatingly relegated. It had proposed that the two countries lift their bans which contravenes an EU directive to which all 27 EU member states are signed up. The directive allows only scientific arguments to exclude GM crops from cultivation, and allows no opt-outs. The Commission had rejected the two countries' portfolios of scientific concerns as insufficient.
The Wiener Zeitung reported further the nerve-wracking run-up to the vote, which had been expected to be inconclusive. In the last few hours, "Austria was able to pull all of the undecided countries onto its side," it reports. These included Germany, Italy and (surprisingly, given that it is Europe's largest grower of GM maize) Spain. In a statement clearly more political than scientific [GMW: none the less real for that!], Germany's environment minister Siegmar Gabriel (SPD) was reported in the Süddeutsche Zeitung as saying "I cannot recognise the product from Monsanto as added value for society”¦ the company is forcing dependency on German farmers". The coalition government in Germany, now gearing up for the September general election, is split on the issue - research minister Annette Schavan (CDU) is in favour of GM crops [but the agricultural minister is also against].
Only four countries voted in favour of the Commission's proposal Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. To avoid a political crisis within the EU, the Netherlands has called for a change to the directive to allow regional opt-outs. But the Commission has other options. For example, it could propose brand-new legislation to force the bans to be lifted.
In the next few months, the European environment ministers will vote on related Commission proposals to lift bans in France and Greece on the cultivation of Mon801, so far the only GM crop approved for cultivation, and to approve for cultivation two additional varieties of GM maize.