16 July 1998
Oops … Government admits seed trials could be technically illegal
by Jonathan Riley
THE legality of all seed trials – including those of genetically-modified crops – has been thrown into question during the appeal hearing of organic farmer Guy Watson.
Mr Watson, who farms near Totnes in Devon, has challenged environment minister Michael Meachers refusal to halt a GM maize crop trial in a neighbours field.
Mr Watson claims the GM maize could cross-pollinate with his organically-grown maize – forcing the Soil Association to strike him off its organic registar – leaving him financially ruined.
Judge Mr Justice Jowitt ruled last Friday that Mr Watson had no arguable case. But during the appeal against that decision, Mr Watsons lawyer, Michael Fordham, claimed the GM crop trial should never have been given the all-clear.
“This trial is being permitted in disregard of the requirements of the law,” Mr Fordham told the High Court in London yesterday afternoon.
Mr Fordham argued that, in allowing the GM trial to go ahead, the government had ignored requirements laid down by the Seeds Regulations Act of 1982 and the Environmental Protection Act of 1990.
In response, the governments barrister, Mark Hoskins, acknowledged that all existing seeds trials could technically be illegal.
The law states that data from two years of seed trials must be submitted to the government before those seeds can be included on the national seeds list.
But, for some reason, it appears that seed trial results have not been properly submitted for the past three years.
“This means that technically all seed trials conducted for the national list have been illegal since 1995,” claimed Richard Young of the pro-organic Soil Association.
The verdict is expected next week.