‘Fight must go on’ to keep Britain GM-free (4/9/2003)

Aura Sabadus
Western Morning News, 04 September 2003

Attempts to create GM-free zones in the Westcountry could be in breach of EU law, it has emerged.
Earlier this week the European Commission ruled that governments which were seeking a general ban on genetically-modified plants would fall foul of EU law.

But campaigners have encouraged Westcountry councils to keep up the fight against GM crops in the UK despite the controversial Brussels ruling.

They argue that regardless of the latest twist, local authorities which have submitted applications to become GM-free zones can still challenge the technology on a case-by-case basis. This is made possible under Article 19 of the European Deliberate Release Directive.

Last night Totnes-based anti-GM campaigner Robert Vint explained: "Unfortunately EU law does not allow areas to impose blanket bans on GM crops - but it does allow them to be banned on a case-by-case basis. It is this approach that UK local authorities have adopted.

"I would encourage all Westcountry councils which have declared themselves GM-free to continue this fight and not to be disheartened by the recent European Commission ruling on banning GM."

The new controversy erupted after the commission refused a plea by the Upper Austria region, which has wanted to outlaw GM crops for three years.

But campaigners say this ruling should not affect British local authorities, which have taken a different approach and are demanding a ban on each individual GM species.

Mr Vint said: "Despite the European Commission's opinion on the Upper Austria case there are legal routes for keeping GM out of the UK."  He called on Westcountry authorities and farmers to maintain a firm position against the commercialisation of the technology in Britain.

So far 12 councils nationwide, including three in the Westcountry - Cornwall, South Hams and South Somerset  - have voted to use the Article 19 approach to have GM crops excluded from their areas.

A MORI poll in July found that 46 per cent of Britons oppose GM food, 33 per cent are undecided and only 14 per cent support it. And major food retailers, including Waitrose, the Co-op and Iceland, continue to block GM ingredients because customers do not want them.

Last night a spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the Government was taking a cautious approach on the matter.  She said: "The decision by the European Commission on Upper Austria's plea to ban GM crops comes neither as a surprise nor as an alarm. The British Government is not pro-GM but pro-environment and safety."

Campaigners have also voiced their fears over the appointment of Downing Street's new communications director, David Hill, who was an adviser for GM giant Monsanto. They claim the links raise questions over the Government's impartiality on the matter.

South Devon-based freelance journalist Andy Rowell said: "If we are to get rid of spin and all sorts of other influences, then someone with a clean record should be in the business.

"Mr Hill will have a difficult role in handling the debate on whether Britain should adopt GM crops."

But in an interview with a national newspaper Mr Hill said: "We will begin a debate on the scientific basis of the research being done by the biotechnology companies into GM."
Press Release, Sep 3
Friends like these
Eco soundings, John Vidal
The Guardian, Wednesday September 3, 2003

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) will have to rule on the US challenge to Europe over GM foods, but concern is growing about the role of its No 2, Rufus Yerxa. The former Monsanto senior director is now responsible for WTO "rules and legal affairs". Friends of the Earth wants the organisation to insist that he plays no part in the decision.

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