Brussels will have final say on GM crops
FORDYCE MAXWELL RURAL AFFAIRS EDITOR
LAST week, the Scottish Executive rejected criticism by the
parliamentary health committee about the way it had conducted genetically
modified crop trials.
It seemed that did not auger well for public
debate this summer on whether GM crops might be grown commercially in
Britain within a few years.
But almost lost in the rejection,
reaction from the slighted health committee and renewed protests from
anti-GM campaigners, was the fact that the commercial GM decision will be
made in Brussels. In effect, any decision made in Scotland, Wales or
England will be irrelevant.
That was confirmed this week by the
Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which said that the UK
government can vote on an approval application but has no power to ban a
GM crop approved by the European Commission.
Farmers Weekly online
reported a Defra official yesterday as saying that: "Consents are granted
by an EU-wide process, and the UK is bound by that decision." The
spokesman also said that the public debate on GMs, due to start in May,
will have little bearing on whether applications are approved.
said: "Objections need to be based on scientific evidence. The public
debate is not about commercialisation, but the wider GM issues and
informing people about policy issues."
Under a voluntary
agreement, no crops will be commercialised in the UK until field trials
are completed in September. Given that, it is possible the first
commercial GM crop for the UK might be approved before the end of this
As well as the Scottish Executive report last week defending
GM trials, Franz Fischler, European commissioner for agriculture,
announced that "no form of agriculture must be excluded from the EU".
That was interpreted, both by pro- and anti-GM groups as a green
light for the new technology, which is now common in a number of countries
- about 100 million acres of GM crops are being grown - but has been
resisted in Europe.
Refusal by the European Union to allow
commercial GM crops would continue to cause problems in World Trade
Organisation talks, with America claiming the ban was simply a way of
restricting US imports.
Friends of the Earth says that Fischler’s
apparent wish to allow farmers who wish to grow GM crops to grow them,
would be a "licence to pollute the food and farming environment" and cause
chaos in the countryside.
Legal liability if contamination of
non-GM crops takes place will also be a massive issue, say anti-GM groups.
There are 18 individual applications from biotech companies for
commercial approval of GM crops in European Union countries. Two of those
are for the UK, from Monsanto for maize and Bayer for oilseed rape, both
to be used in animal feed and food products.
Several weeks ago
representatives of leading biotech firms, including Monsanto and Bayer,
spent several days in Scotland on a "charm offensive" and said they
believed that commerical GM crops would be grown in the UK within five