Who knew about damning GM report?

Jan 1 2003

Ceri Jones, The Western Mail


OPPONENTS of genetically modified food are demanding to know whether Assembly Members were kept in the dark over a damning government report on GM crops.

The report, which says that the crops are interbreeding with conventional crops and weeds, was released by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Christmas Eve, and could threaten plans to grow GM crops commercially.

Now campaigners in Wales, who led successful protests against GM crop trials in the country, want to know whether the Welsh Assembly Government knew about the report's findings before AMs debated the issue just a week before the report was published.

Although it is in favour of a GM-free Wales in principle, the Assembly voted to accept new regulations relating to the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms in Wales on December 18. Nineteen AMs voted against.

Anti-GM campaigners are now writing to Rural Affairs Minister Mike German to find out what he knew on December 18.

Plaid Cymru AMs will also question Mr German when the Assembly reconvenes after the holiday.

Dr Brian John, of GM Free Cymru, said yesterday, "Defra certainly knew about the contents of this new report on December 18. We want to know whether the key findings were passed through to the Assembly Government prior to the debate in the chamber?

"If they were, who decided not to place the key facts before the AMs during the debate?

"We are quite convinced that if these findings had been placed on the table, they would have scared the living daylights out of AMs, and the draft regulations would not have been passed without considerable modification."

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Plaid Cymru agriculture spokesman, said if the information in the report had been known to AMs, it would have been raised.

"We have been warning about cross contamination for some time," he said. "As opposition parties we certainly weren't made aware of it.

"If the report was issued on Christmas Eve then Defra would have known about it.

"Either they kept the administration in Cardiff in the dark or the administration decided not to pass on the information to us.

"There are some very important questions to ask Mike German on this issue."

Evidence that GM crops are interbreeding with other crops and weeds was discovered by scientists monitoring British GM crop trials.

The Defra report shows that genes from GM oil seed rape, engineered to be resistant to herbicides, contaminated conventional crops up to 200 yards away and also interbred with weeds.

Dr John said anti-GM campaigners were not surprised by the contents of the report.

"We have been warning about these possibilities for almost two years now, and there is abundant evidence from all over the world that gene flow and large-scale pollution are inevitable consequences of GM crop plantings.

"They prejudice not just organic farming but conventional farming as well.

"What is amazing is that the Government has thus far been totally complacent on the issue. The ACRE [Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment] response to the report, also released on Christmas Eve, is also so complacent and irresponsible that we are calling for it to be disbanded.

"It is now so compromised and so heavily involved in defending the GM industry that it is actually operating against the public interest."

Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said the results could cause the Government to think again about the long-term implications of the commercial growing of oil seed rape.

An Assembly spokeswoman said yesterday that they were not aware of the Defra report prior to its publication on Christmas Eve. If they had been aware, copies would have been given to Assembly members.

They will be looking at the report and putting it forward to ministers and members as soon as possible.