20 April 1998
GM crop ban likely to fail,
say Government lawyers
By Boyd Champness
LAWYERS have advised the Government not to seek a three-year moratorium on the introduction of genetically-modified crops because any such moves are likely to fail.
Four Government advisory bodies – including English Nature and English Heritage – have called for a three-year ban on the introduction of GM crops to allow further research into their potential harmful effects on the environment.
But the proposed ban, which has the support of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and a number of food safety and consumer groups, is likely to fall on deaf ears following recent comments by junior agriculture minister Jeff Rooker.
During a hearing in Parliament of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mr Rooker admitted that he was “sceptical” about the introduction of GM crops in the UK. But he said the Government had received legal advice that it could not “insist” on a moratorium because GM crops had already been approved by the European Union.
“What we can do and what we are actively doing in Whitehall at the moment is making sure that the industry… have got a very robust code of practice about the way these crops are handled and dealt with,” he told the committee.
Mr Rooker said if the Government was then not satisfied with the code of practice, it could request a moratorium, but not insist on one.
But Friends of the Earth food campaigner Adrian Bebbs accused Mr Rooker of conceding early defeat in the GM war.
“Austria and Luxembourg have imposed an outright ban on GM maize. And France has imposed a moratorium on GM maize to allow for greater public consultation,” he said.
Only last week, the European Commission failed to pull Austria and Luxembourg into line for their unilateral ban on GM maize manufactured by Novartis. The EU Regulatory Committee was unable reach a majority decision that the two countries had acted illegally. The issue will now go before the Council of Farm Ministers for a decision.
Mr Bebbs said the EU had taken a strong stand against growth hormones in cattle, effectively escaping the wrath of the World Trade Organisation for the past 10 years through various stalling measures, and should adopt the same tactics for GM crops.
“We shouldnt be sacrificing our countryside and farmers just for the sake of the World Trade Organisation and biotech companies who have made it quite clear that they want to dominate agriculture,” he said.