09:00 - 07 January 2003
 Friends of the Earth activist Keith Hatch explains why the Westcountry
will be a key battleground in the fight to create a GM-free zone

Last October Friends of the Earth launched its GM-Free Britain campaign;
its aim is to enable the whole of Britain to become free from the threat
of genetic pollution. In the months since, the campaign has been gaining

The emphasis is very much on local action carried out by local people
and groups.

The campaign aims to link together diverse groups with a concern for our
environment and a desire to protect it. Across Britain more than 110
groups have already signed up.

Over the coming months the issue of GM crops will be climbing up the
political agenda. At the moment the Government is preparing for its "GM
Public Debate". This was expected to begin this month - but as yet no
dates have been set and one unnamed Minister has hinted that the debate
is little more than a Government PR exercise and that the outcome will
be "pro-GM".

This campaign is for a GM-free Britain, but to get there we need a
GM-free Cornwall, a GM-free Devon and a GM-free Somerset.

The South West is crucial to the campaign.

The first commercially grown crop will be Chardon LL, a T25 maize which
has been genetically modified to be tolerant to the herbicide

Yet despite the many concerns raised about the safety and value of
Chardon LL from objectors at public meetings into its approval, and from
an inter-departmental group on novel feed developments, it may still be
given the go-ahead. This type of fodder maize will be used for cattle
and, as everyone around here knows, the dairy industry is one of the
main forms of agriculture in the region.

We know that the South West is home to high quality local food and a
large number of organic producers. Organic producers face an uncertain
time - Soil Association certification could possibly be lost if GM crops
are grown within six miles of them. However, not only organic producers
are affected - seed purity for all types of farmers and growers will be
impossible to maintain if GM crops are grown on a commercial scale.

This all sounds depressing, but there is something we can do about it.
Recent EU legislation allows for member states to ask the European
Commission to offer legal protection for a "geographical area" such as a
county, district or parish. Therefore your local council will be well
within its rights to ask the Environment Secretary that no GM crops
should be approved for planting within its boundaries.

Parts of Austria, Germany, France and the whole of Wales have declared
themselves GM-free, so there is no reason why Cornwall, Devon and
Somerset shouldn't join this list.

The next few months will be crucial; it really is a case of now or
never. If the crops are planted they will enter into our environment and
stay there - the genie can't be returned to the bottle. However, with
local people working together we can ensure a GM-free Britain for us and
our children.

For more information on the GM Free Britain Campaign contact Friends of
the Earth on 020 7490 1555 or the website


09:00 - 07 January 2003
 The opening steps to make the Westcountry Britain's first genetically
modified-free zone are to be taken over the next few weeks.

Councillors in Devon are considering asking the Government to enforce a
new European Union directive which allows member states to set aside
areas banning the future growing of GM crops.

If a planned meeting of the council's scrutiny committee backs the move
on January 13, councillors in neighbouring Cornwall and Somerset are
expected to follow suit in calling on Environment Secretary Margaret
Beckett to protect their areas from contamination.

Today Friends of the Earth campaigners are to brief Devon county
councillors on the legislation, which allows councils to declare their
territories GM-free, once approval is obtained from the Government.

The move follows a Government report last month which revealed GM crops
have contaminated conventional crops up to 200 yards away. Keith Hatch,
Westcountry spokesman for FoE, said: "Friends of the Earth is calling on
local councils to use of EU legislation on GM. If we manage to make good
use of this directive, the Westcountry could lead the way in becoming
the first area to obtain a GM-free status."

The comments were welcomed by Devon county councillor Geoff Date, who
said: "The directive is worth pursuing. Today I'll meet several members
of FoE to discuss the matter in-depth. We also hope to get support from

Cornwall county councillor Howard Roberts said: "We can't impose on
farmers what to grow or on consumers what to buy. However, we would
clearly wish to see our children eat healthily."


09:00 - 07 January 2003
 Westcountry environmentalists have urged politicians to take active
steps in fighting "the dangers of genetic modification."

In then light of a new Government study containing evidence of GM
contamination in neighbouring organic fields, campaigners have called on
local authorities to adopt a GM-free status for the region.

Westcountry members of the Friends of the Earth are now to brief county
councillors on a European regulation which could grant protection to
self-declared GM-free areas against future releases of GM crops and

Since the directive entered into force in the UK in 2002, no local
authority has introduced GM-free zones. Leicestershire County Council,
however, operates a five-year freeze on GM crops, which means that none
are grown on farms in the county.

Devon County Council twice last year looked at the issue of GM crops and
whether or not to try and ban them, but resolved that doing so could
mislead the public as the local authority had no power to control their

But since the last meeting in July, Friends of the Earth campaigners
have discovered the EU Directive 18/2001 which they believe will give
local authorities the legal protection they need to block GM crops from
being commercialised.

Richard Orrell, Westcountry FOE member and a staunch campaigner against
genetical engineering, said: "Local authorities will have to devote
increased resources to food monitoring and food safety, such as
enforcement of labelling, monitoring of contamination with unapproved GM
material and action in the event of contamination or the withdrawal of
an approved GM food. We call on local authorities to address the risks
of genetical engineering. "

Responding to the campaign initiated by the environmental group,
Westcountry county councillors have now promised to look into the matter
and consider the new directive.

Coun Geoff Date, for Totnes rural, and a member of the council's
environment and economy scrutiny committee, welcomed proposals to work
closely with the group. He said: "Currently we are encouraging schools
and other establishments connected to the authority to buy organic. We
know very little about GM and it is advisable to take a cautious view,
urging people to prefer organic produce which we know is safe."

He added: "The new directive suggested to us by the Friends of the Earth
seems a possible solution. However, there is still a lot of information
that we need to gather and understand."

Devon Coun John Glanville and chairman of the scrutiny committee argued
that the authority was already encouraging establishments connected to
the body, such as schools to ensure that foodstuffs are labelled as to
whether they contain GM-derived ingredients.

The council has debated the issue of GM crops and organisms at a number
of meetings, resolving through the Local Government Authority to press
the Government to take steps to prevent the recurrence of seed stock
contamination by GM seed.

Coun Date explained that only a joint initiative of Westcountry councils
would succeed in keeping the area GM-free.

He said: "There are many risks of contamination involved and therefore,
I believe, it is important for us to link up with other county councils
to adopt a GM-free status for the region."

In Cornwall, members of the county council welcomed comments from their
counterparts in Devon, claiming the authority was "open-minded" to
suggestions and ideas. Prince Charles, the Duke of Cornwall, has also
been an outspoken opponent of GM crops and GM foods.

Cornwall county coun Howard Roberts, portfolio holder of the environment
committee, said: "We have been recently approached by members of the
Friends of the Earth with whom we are talking about different aspects of
GM crops. However, we believe that it would not be democratic to impose
on farmers whether to grow or not GM crops. Nobody has come yet with a
complete definition of GM and we don't know its full implications, but
we would very much like to think that our children eat healthy local
food produced to British standards." Meanwhile, Somerset County Council
resolved to oppose the release of genetically modified organisms and
seek the support of national organisations such as English Nature and
the Local Government Association.

Also the council's Countryside and Heritage Board decided to insert a
clause into all new tenancy agreement for County Farms to prohibit the
growing of all genetically modified crops and request existing tenants
not to grow genetically modified crops."

The Government asserts that it is neither pro nor anti GM crops and
recognises there are potential risks and benefits. It says that it will
not approve GM crops releases if there is any serious doubt about their
safety, but argues that consumers should be given a choice. Last
October, when the EU directive came into force, Environment Minister
Michael Meacher said: "The new directive clarifies and improves the
existing EU regulatory framework under which decisions are taken on
whether to allow, or to prevent, proposed releases of GM organisms.

"The new regime provides an increased level of protection to consumers
and the environment from any potential risks posed by these organisms.

"It also takes large steps towards improving transparency and public
involvement in decision making."

But despite the Government's cautious view on the issue, Westcountry
farmers fear that the introduction of the crops into the region may
affect the region's organic industry. Guy Watson, a South Devon organic
farmer, claimed it was impossible for GM and non-GM crops to co-exist.

He said: "There are good intellectual reasons for questioning the safety
of GM crops. The commercial benefits to agriculture and consumers are

According to a poll conducted by FOE, 50 local authorities in England
have already demonstrated their opposition to GM food and crops, calling
for a freeze on commercialising GM crops for five years.

A number of councils have also required catering, such as those
supplying schools to have a non-GM policy.


09:00 - 07 January 2003
 Owen Yeatman, a Dorset farmer whose land hosted government GM field
trials, says the cultivation of the crops could bring benefits

As a trial site provider for the recent GM environmental impact trials,
I would like to explain some of my thinking in being willing to partake
in these trials.

My primary reason for being willing to take part was to enable the trial
data to be collected and then reported upon, so as to gain some
information as to the impact this technology could have upon the flora
and fauna of the countryside surrounding these crops.

The alleged benefits to the farmer were well known to me - easier crop
management, reduced chemical usage, less energy used in the crop
establishment process, so I was keen to see if these were really there
to be had in the UK situation.

I am also very aware of the Government's attitude to British farmers,
which is basically that subsidies are going to end and farmers have to
compete with international competitors.

So I was aware that if our competitors were using GM then we should have
the option of using it also.

GM technology is already being widely used by our international
competitors extensively, and the products produced using this technology
are on the supermarket shelves.

So, having taken part in the trials what now are my views on the

I have certainly learnt a lot more about GM, and how far and fast the
science is progressing.

I have also learnt that by and large the general public are very
sceptical about the introduction of GM.

We all share a healthy scepticism to all opinions and research - in
today's world there is little information that is impartial, and most
people have some form of vested interest.

The Government is in a cleft stick about the subject - it is a strong
believer in free trade and its benefits, so is keen to open the United
Kingdom market to International competition - and under the GATT
(General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) rules would find it virtually
impossible to keep out imported foods using legislation.

However, the public wants the choice as to whether to use GM foods or

Having been to lots of meetings organised to discuss GM, it has become
apparent to me that by and large the requirements of the public and the
wishes of the farmers are similar.

Both want good quality traceable foods produced in a manner that is kind
to the environment and farm animals.

However the supermarkets, which are between the producer and consumer,
have their own reasons for keeping us from achieving this objective.

GM technology may have benefits to farmers; however experience shows
that any cost savings or benefits soon find their way out of the
farmer's pocket and into another person's further up the food chain.

So ultimately it will prove of little benefit to the farmer - but to
avoid using GM, as with any other step forward in science, will be a
difficult decision.


09:00 - 07 January 2003
 The European Directive on the deliberate release into the environment
of genetically modified organisms was adopted in the EU in February

The UK and other EU Member States were required to transpose the new
regulation into national legislation by October 17 2002 and the devolved
administrations are expected to introduce their own respective
regulations shortly.

The new regime applies to applications for commercial releases of GM
crops, and research trial releases. It will provide a more robust
framework for taking safety-based decisions on whether to allow, or to
prevent, the release of GM organisms in England.

Among other things, the new regime introduces:

An explicit requirement for environmental risk assessments to cover
indirect and long-term effects of GM organisms;

Mandatory public consultation before decisions are taken on applications
for consents to release GM organisms;

Mandatory labelling for all GM crops released commercially in the EU.
They must also be traceable throughout the production and supply chain;

Phasing out of antibiotic resistance genes that may have adverse effects
on human health and the environment;

Time limits on all commercial approvals - max. 10 years - after which
consents must be reassessed.

Friends of the Earth considers that GM-free areas can be provided with
legal protection under the new rule. Article 19 of the directive
specifically mentions the protection offered to "geographical areas".
The group suggests that local authorities ask the Government to use this
provision to protect self-declared GM-free areas against future releases
of GM crops and foods. Thanks to the EU directive, countries like
Austria, Germany, France, as well as Wales were declared GM-free.