No-one will insure GM crops (7/10/2003)

FARM press release
7/10/03 - for immediate release
No-one will insure GM crops

"The worry is that GM could be like Thalidomide - only after some time would the full extent of the problems be seen"
- Insurance company spokesperson

A survey of the principle insurance underwriters in the UK, carried out by the new campaigning group FARM, found that neither farmers considering growing GM crops or non-GM farmers seeking to protect their businesses from contamination by GM crops would be able to find anyone willing to give them insurance. [1]

The survey conducted by FARM staff and working farmer members revealed a level of opposition from companies taking on the risks of insuring GM crops, comparable to the public's hostility to purchasing and eating them. 

Insurance company spokespeople compared GM crops to 'Thalidomide', 'Asbestos' and 'Acts of Terrorism'. [2]

All the companies surveyed felt that too little was known about the long term effects of growing these crops on human health and the environment to be able to offer any form of cover:
"50 years ago insurers were writing policies for asbestos without a care in the world - now they are facing claims of hundreds of millions of pounds. The insurance industry has learned to be wary of new things, and there is a real feeling that GM could come back and bite you in 5 years time", said one company spokesperson.

National Coordinator, Robin Maynard said,
'When insurers quantify GM crops in the same category as thalidomide, asbestos and terrorism, no thinking farmer should risk their business and public reputation by taking on this unproven, unwanted and unnecessary technology.

Time and time again, farmers have borne the brunt of someone else's mistakes or short-cuts - BSE, organophosphates, salmonella etc. It's time farmers got out of the firing line and let those seeking to force GM crops into our fields and onto supermarket shelves take the flak.

If Government and their friends in the Biotech. companies dispute the judgement of the professional insurers, perhaps they will offer unlimited cover to the few farmers willing to risk growing GM crops?  In addition, for both farmers and consumers, they need to guarantee,  what the insurers clearly believe isn't possible,  that GM-crops can be grown without contaminating the crops of the majority of farmers who want to remain GM-free.'

The survey is released in conjunction with a FARM briefing, 'GM Crops - sorting the Wheat from the Chaff', which sets out the facts about GM crops as they will affect practical, working farmers and the markets they produce for - if the Government gives the go-ahead for commercial planting in the UK.[3]

For further information contact:
Freddie Whitefield  0207 349 5833
Robin Maynard   0207 349 5832/07932 040452
A number of the working farmer members of FARM have direct experience of the issues surrounding GM and agriculture and are available for interview.


1. FARM staff and farmer members contacted the five main underwriters and brokers for farm insurance in the UK, asking what their current standpoint on GM was and whether there was any provision for changing this, if commercialisation was approved.  Individual brokers were unable to offer any clarification to our farmers as to their options and liabilities and referred us on to the main companies.

Summary of results and some notes on the comments made by the spokespersons for each company:

AIUA (Agricultural Insurance Underwriters Agency) (Norwich Union/Sun Alliance)
Have an exclusion clause for liability arising from GM crops. Do not anticipate any change in position. Spokesperson said that the reason for this was that they had no idea what the long term effects might be. There is such a degree of uncertainty surrounding the potential risks, and the effects could take generations to manifest.

Rural Insurance Group (Lloyds)
Also have a set exclusion clause - putting GM crops in the same bracket as 'acts of terrorism'.

The reason they have this is because they have no track record which they are willing to base assessments of risk on. They feel there is too much fear surrounding the topic. Whenever it comes on TV, it raises fears of mass problems associated with contamination. The insurance companies have learned to be cautious about new things.

BIB Underwriters Limited (AXA)
Have set exclusion clause which was amended within the last year, and will continue to apply if commercialisation is approved. Basically they would turn down any policy that has any association with GM. So that would include farm buildings and property insurance as well as public liability. The reason for this is that alongside the problems of cross contamination, they envisage problems associated with arson or vandalism due to anti-GM protestors.

NFU Mutual
Have had a policy for some time now that they will not provide insurance for farmers choosing to grow GM crops. Unless there is a serious increase in the quality of available information there will be no change in their standpoint. They believe that the risks are not fully understood. They cannot see this position changing in the near future despite the proximity of possible contamination. Their recommendation to farmers considering growing these crops is to approach the industry/seed companies and obtain some liability insurance through them.

Business combined Policy Endorsements Part A 030A Genetically Modified crops
"NFU Mutual will not indemnify the insured in respect of any liability arising from the production, supply of or presence on the premises of any genetically modified crop, where liability may be attributed directly or indirectly to the genetic characteristics of the crop. In particular, no indemnity will be provided in respect of liability arising from the spread or the threat of spread of genetically modified organism characteristics into the environment or any change to the environment arising from research into, testing of or production of genetically modified organisms"

Farm Web
Are currently reviewing their position on this in light of the postions taken by Re-insurance companies and developments in the EU. At the moment they do not have a set statement but say they would have to consider each case on its own context.

Quotes from insurance spokespeople collected by researcher during survey:

"The worry is that GM could be like Thalidomide - only after some time would the full extent of the problems be seen"

"50 years ago they were writing policies for asbestos without a care in the world. Now they are faced with bills of hundreds of millions. There is a feeling that GM could come back and bite you in five years time."
"If a farmer approached us with any kind of insurance policy relating to a farm associated with GM we would have to refuse their application - whatever the kind of insurance applied for."

2. A number of the working farmer Board members of FARM have direct experience of the issues surrounding GM and agriculture.

* Lincolnshire dairy farmer, John Turner was unable to grow a lucrative crop of maize silks due to the threat of contamination from a neighboring GM trial site. In the absence of any form of insurance against the risk of contamination, the only option for the farmer was not to grow any plants that could be vulnerable to cross-pollination. The financial impact of these precautionary measures has been calculated to be of the order of £2,500.

* John Sanderson, an arable and beef farmer from Suffolk, hit the headlines three years ago when he was the first farmer in the country to plough in the GM contaminated oilseed rape which he had inadvertently planted on 27 acres after the government failed to notify farmers in time about the contamination. The GM-contaminated seed had been sown on over 30,000 acres in the UK, and following public and media pressure, was all eventually destroyed.

* Lincolnshire arable farmer, Peter Lundgren fought a trial site proposed next to his farm. He has also visited the US to see the effects of GM crops first hand, and helped produce a detailed critique exposing exaggerated claims of cost savings by Brooms Barn Research Station on the economics of growing GM Sugar Beet.

All three farmers are available for interview.  Photos are also available.

3. To obtain a copy of FARM's GM briefing please contact Freddie Whitefield on 0207 349 5833 or at [email protected]

The survey and briefing come out at a critical time for the Government's decision on whether or not to give the go-ahead for commercial planting of GM crops in the UK.  The results of the Government's Field Scale Evaluations of GM crops are due to be published next week. Leaked accounts suggest that the evaluations found that 2 of the 3 GM crops first proposed for commercialization show negative impacts on the environment. This study follows on from overwhelming public hostility to GM crops confirmed by the GM Nation debate and the lack of any short-term economic benefits identified by the No 10 Strategy Unit report.

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