GM firms dodge liability in England but not Wales (4/3/2008)

1.Biotech Industry Escapes Responsibility for its GM Crops in England but Not in Wales

2.Welsh Groups welcome Assembly Government stance on GM liability


1.Biotech Industry Escapes Responsibility for its GM Crops in England but Not in Wales
GeneWatch UK, Press Release, 29 February 2008

If genetically modified organisms (GMOs) cause damage to our rare and protected wildlife, neither the state nor the biotech companies will have to clean up such damage under proposed new legislation to transpose the EU Environmental Liability Directive. Today, the UK government has launched its second consultation on the Directive. Despite more than a decade of public concern over the environmental impacts of GM crops the government has sent a clear signal to Biotech companies that they don't have to take responsibility for their products.

Under the proposals, biotechnology companies who cause damage to protected wildlife will be able to avoid responsibility by claiming that current science had not foreseen that specific damage and that they had been granted a permit to release the GMO into the environment. This reasoning will also be open for use by many other types of regulated businesses, for example the waste and chemical industries. In order for them to be held liable it will have to be shown that they broke conditions of their permit.

GeneWatch welcomed the proposals by the Welsh Assembly Government who in contrast to England will not allow such defenses. In the draft legislation for Wales, Biotech companies will be liable should protected habitats be damaged.

In the late 1990s the UK government was poised to allow commercial planting of GM crops. It was only through enormous public opposition that scientific studies were extended and the damage that could be caused by some GM crops was exposed. 'The current regulations governing the release of these GM crops do not require such extensive studies to be carried out and yet companies will be able to hide behind these regulations if something goes wrong' said Becky Price of GeneWatch UK. We strongly support Wales in its acknowledgement of the uncertainty around these crops and that they are upholding the 'polluter pays' principle, which is the aim of this legislation.

GeneWatch welcomes the extension of the European Directive to include some of England's most important nature protection areas, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), in the scope of the draft regulations. However, Government proposals still exclude many of the UK’s rare priority species protected by Government action plans, including red squirrels, water voles and scarce farmland birds.

'The inclusion of SSSIs in this legislation is a fantastic step in the right direction, but there is a lot of scope for the Government to really support the existing environmental priorities in this country through this law, and only some of the opportunities are being used', said Sandy Luk GeneWatch's legal expert on environmental liability .

Sandy Luk, eppac limited: 07879 655779;
Becky Price, GeneWatch UK 07949 396328

Notes to editors:

Full details of the consultation are at; http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/env-liability-regs/index.htm

The Environmental Liability Directive was passed, despite much controversy, as a result of a series of environmental disasters, starting with a dioxin leak from a herbicide plant in Seveso, Italy, in July 1976, and culminating in the Erica and Prestige tanker oil spills in 2000 and 2002, and a toxic zinc mine spill in the Doñana area of southern Spain in April 1998, which all had devastating effects on the environment and killed sometimes hundreds of thousands of birds, fish and other animals.

The Government’s first consultation identified a number of measures in the Regulatory Impact Assessment, which, if introduced, would strengthen environmental protection and provide an overall benefit to society, for example the inclusion of SSSIs in the legislation. However, despite this the Government at the time was opposed to all such measures , as it favoured a so-called ‘minimum implementation approach’.

Currently, 20% per cent of land designated as a SSSI in England is classified as being in unfavourable condition by Natural England. In addition, 35% is said to be unfavourable but recovering. Some of the main reasons for the adverse condition of SSSIs include overgrazing, moor burning, drainage and water pollution.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gives some protection to Government (biodiversity) action plan habitats and species, but it does not provide for protected rights that can be enforced if they are attacked (for example if habitats or species are damaged through a pollution incident).


2.Welsh Groups welcome Assembly Government stance on GM liability
Press Notice, 4 March 2008

Consumer and environmental groups in Wales have warmly welcomed a new Assembly document which underpins the long-standing policy commitment to keep GM crops out of Wales. The draft Environmental Damage(Prevention and Remediation) (Wales) Regulations 2008 (1) 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 GM Free Wales Alliance (2) has now written to Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones to congratulate her and the Assembly Government on this latest step in the protection of Welsh farming and the Welsh environment.

In England, the Westminster Government recognizes that GM contamination is potentially harmful, but its draft regulations effectively make it impossible to pin liability on the operator or permit holder in cases where environmental or economic damage occurs, or where neighbouring farmers may suffer consequential loss. NGOs are already describing the new English Regulation as a disaster, and as a green light for large-scale GM contamination of the countryside.

In Wales, however, the Assembly Government has followed its own agenda, which is much more closely in tune with national sentiment and with representations made over a year ago by many organizations including RSPB, FoE, and GM Free Cymru. The key points of departure from the English regulation mean that in Wales:

1. Permit holders such as Monsanto and Bayer will be held liable for local contamination or 'genetic trespass', as will the farmers or operators who plant and harvest GM crops.

2. Operators who cause damage will not be able to claim immunity on the basis that they held a permit or consent for the release of GMOs from a 'competent authority' or from any other EU body.

3. Neither will they be able to mount a defence on the basis that the state of scientific knowledge at the date of the permit suggested that the GMO was harmless or unlikely to spread by cross-contamination or other means.

4. If extensive damage is caused by GMOs, the GM company which developed the crop is deemed to be liable for all types of environmental damage (biodiversity, water, land) and the rules of strict liability will apply.

5. In cases where damage is proved, the GM permit holders and operators will have to meet all costs which might otherwise be carried by the taxpayer - administrative, legal and enforcement costs, costs of data collection and research etc.

6. Protection is afforded to all natural habitats and sites of special scientific interest in Wales -- and that does not just include designated SSSIs but also sites with many other 'protected' designations (such as National Parks and local nature reserves) as well.

7. Where GM crops directly or indirectly (eg through the spray drift of associated chemicals) harm water bodies, streams and rivers, the permit holder and operator will be held responsible.

8. Local authorities in Wales may be able to act as 'agents' for the Welsh 'competent authority' in identifying GM contamination incidents and in taking enforcement action. This would represent a very welcome delegation of powers into the communities most likely to be harmed by genetic pollution.

Commenting on the draft Regulation, GM Free Cymru spokesperson Gill Rowlands said: ' It is excellent that Elin Jones and the Welsh Assembly Government have taken a bold step and acted on behalf of the people of Wales to protect our very special environment. They have also placed the financial responsibility of cleaning up any environmental damage caused by the planting of GM crops firmly in the pocket of the polluter and not the people.'

In a further comment Dr Brian John noted that the Welsh Assembly had moved significantly away from the DEFRA line on GM crops. 'We know already that it is impossible for farmers to obtain insurance against the damage that may be associated with GM crop plantings (3),' he said. 'Not even NFU Mutual will provide cover, in spite of the fact that the NFU is aggressively promoting GM crop plantings. Permit holders like Monsanto also refuse to accept liability. We all know that the comfortable 'coexistence' which the EC and the British Government refer to frequently is an absolute impossibility (4). The accumulating evidence from around the world shows that GM and non-GM crops cannot be planted in the same district, even with large separation distances, without GM contamination occurring. It is right and proper that those who are responsible for genetic trespass, environmental damage and economic damage must be forced, through legislation such as this, to face up to the full consequences of their actions.'


Gill Rowlands 01437-720227
Brian John 01239-820470


1. The draft regulations for both England and Wales are here:

The draft regulations are now subject to a public consultation which ends on 27 May. The final form of the Regulations must be adopted in Wales by the end of 2008.

(2) The GM Free Wales Alliance consists of FoE Cymru, GM Free Cymru, the National Federation of Women's Institutes (Wales) and the FUW.

(3) See the following: http://www.rics.org/Practiceareas/Environmentandland/Ruralandnaturalassets/Agricultural/rics%20view%20gmo%20land%20register.html

'Even NFU Mutual, the insurance arm of the National Farmers' Union, which is in favour of GM crops, will not provide insurance for farmers wanting to grow GM crops. A spokesman said the company believed the risks were not fully understood and advised farmers to seek cover through the biotechnology companies that own the patent to GM seeds.'

(4) 'Canada introduced GM canola in 1995. Within two years it became apparent that segregation of GM and non-GM canola was failing. Now it is impossible to segregate the two, and farmers have no choice but to market all canola as GM.'

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