GM Growing Proposals Condemned As Charter for Contamination (20/7/2006)

DEFRA GM Growing Proposals Condemned As Charter for Contamination

[The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] DEFRA's long awaited proposals on the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops and economic liability [1] have been published today and have been condemned by GM Freeze because they would lead to GM contamination of every part of the food chain.

The consultation was first promised in 2004 following the GM-policy statement by Margaret Beckett [2].

GM Freeze director, Pete Riley, said

"The Government have failed to listen to the concerns of people and slavishly followed the guidelines set down by the pro-GM European Commission. They are based on a false premise that pollen movement is predictable and human errors won't occur. DEFRA's suggestion that a 35 metres separation distances GM oilseed rape is adequate beggars belief. In addition key issues like volunteer control are left to voluntary agreements with industry. The people to benefit from these proposals will be the biotech corporations – once again the Government prefers to listen to them rather than the people who buy and eat food".

DEFRA's consultation process begins today and lasts until 20th October 2006. GM Freeze and Friends of the Earth will be publishing a guide on how to respond shortly.

The choices offered by DEFRA do not include a GM-free option and assume that allowing a routine GM-contamination of crops up to 0.9% will not harm health or the environment or damage the markets for organic and non-GM products which are strong across the whole of Europe. At present food and feed with any ingredients above 0.9% GM has to be labelled. Below this level, labeling can only be avoided if companies can prove the GM presence is "adventitious or technically unavoidable".

An independent legal opinion released in 2004 [3] suggested that the EC’s coexistence guidelines [4], on which the DEFRA proposals are based, were "'fundamentally flawed' (para. 55) and that the approaches of the Commission (and the UK Government in following the Recommendation) have 'no basis in Community legislation and are wrong in law' (para. 20).

DEFRA's proposals include:

* Proposals to deal with the issue either by voluntary agreements or through Statutory Instruments thus avoiding the requirement for full parliamentary scrutiny

* Supports measures for non–GM crops to contain up to 0.9% as a result of cross pollination and still be not be labelled GM.

* Supports for a 0.9% GM contamination threshold for organic crops.

* Separation distances between GM and non-GM crops of a maximum 110 metres for maize when field data and evidence suggest significant pollination takes place at far greater distances [5]. For oilseed rape the distance proposed is a mere 35 metres.

* No clear proposal for handling liability claims for contamination.

GM Freeze analysis highlights the key omissions:

* Fails to prevent contamination of growing crops including organic.

* Fails to allow for contamination from other sources such as seeds and post harvest contamination meaning that retailers and manufacturers will find it difficult to meet 0.9% labelling threshold.

* Ignores key evidence on pollination distances.

* Fails to present coherent proposals on establishing GM-free areas.

* No commitment to make biotech companies strictly liable for economic harm caused by GM contamination.

* Fails to protect the environment from the impacts of low level GM contamination.

* Fails to protect seed purity by supporting EC 0.3-0.5% thresholds.

* Fails to deal with the impact of GM crops on beekeepers and honey quality.

* Voluntary approaches to dealing with key issues such as crop volunteers and cleaning equipment

* No protection for honey or beekeepers.

* No protection for farm saved seeds.

* No protection for gardeners or allotment holders.

* No clear proposals for dealing with liability for crop contamination and loss of income or sales.

* Suggests a possible voluntary approach to deal with liability for contamination.

* Damage to reputation caused by contaminated crops is dismissed.

* No register of GM growing sites in advance of planting.

Summing up the reaction of GM Freeze, Pete Riley said:

"The UK has the power to make the rules governing GM crop growing tough enough to prevent contamination. The proposals issued today clearly show that they do not have the stomach to do so despite public support for such a move. They use claims of "sound science" to justify their policy and then ignore evidence which doesn’t back it up. If these proposals are adopted then GM contamination will creep ever upwards and permeate all parts of the food chain in a short period of time. We urge any one who cares about the countryside and the integrity of their food to pick up their pens and tell DEFRA and their MPs exactly what they think about this charter for GM contamination".


Calls: Carrie Stebbings 0207 837 0642 Pete Riley 07903 341 065.


1. DEFRA’s consultation paper and press release http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/gmnongm-coexist/consultdoc.pdf and http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2006/060720a.htm

2. GM policy statement by Margaret Beckett March 2004 http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/crops/index.htm#Policy

3. Summary of Advice of Paul Lasok in relation to Coexistence, Traceability and Labelling

March 2005 for Friends of the Earth (EWNI), The Soil Association, Greenpeace, Which?, GeneWatch UK and GM Freeze Co-existence

European legislation gives Member States the power to introduce co-existence measures1. The power is very broadly described, allowing member states to take "appropriate measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in other products".

In July 2003 the European Commission issued a ‘Recommendation’2 which gave the Commission’s views on how member states should use that power. Although not having force of law the Recommendation is important because it sets out the Commission’s thinking and because it is being relied on by Member States throughout Europe, including the UK, in drawing up their co-existence strategies. The Recommendation tried significantly to narrow the power given to Member States. In particular, the Commission stated that:

1. Member States are not allowed to take into account environmental and human health matters in preparing their co-existence measures. The only issues allowed to be dealt with in coexistence measures are ‘economic issues’. This is because the Commission believes that environmental and health matters are already fully addressed during the consent process for each crop;

2. Member States are not allowed to make their co-existence measures stricter than is necessary to keep contamination below 0.9%. This is because 0.9% is the level of contamination at which products must be labelled as containing GMOs.

Paul Lasok QC looked at the arguments and concluded that:

The Recommendation is ‘fundamentally flawed’ (para. 55) and that the approaches of the Commission (and the UK Government in following the Recommendation) have ‘no basis in Community legislation and are wrong in law’ (para. 20). In particular:

a. The labelling thresholds (0.9%) are ‘legally irrelevant’ to deciding how to implement co-existence measures (para. 25, 26).

b. The objectives of coexistence must not be restricted to ‘economic issues’ only. Member States must have regard to the aims of protecting human health and the environment in adopting any coexistence measures. (para. 38)

c. Any co-existence measures that were based on the labelling threshold of 0.9% would make it extremely difficult for operators to avoid labelling their products as containing GMOs even where their products contained GMOs at less than 0.9%. (para. 42-45)

d. The Organic Regulation provides that, in order to be labelled or referred to as organic, a product must not contain GMOs in any quantity. If co-existence measures were to operate to a "baseline norm" (such as the 0.9% labelling thresholds) there is a very real risk that the "organic" label could become defunct" (para 52).

Full opinion at http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/legal_opinion_in_the_matte.pdf

1 Art. 26a of Directive 2001/18

2 2003/556/EC dated 23 July 2003, Commission Recommendation on guidelines for the development of national strategies and best practices to ensure the coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming

4. 2003/556/EC dated 23 July 2003, Commission Recommendation on guidelines for the development of national strategies and best practices to ensure the coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming

5. See http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/gm_contamination.pdf and http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/international/press/reports/impossible-coexistence.pdf

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