UK Government is preparing the ground for GM crops

Lawrence Woodward, Former director of the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm, reports on the EU's GMO authorisation process.

On the 13th of January the European Parliament (EP) voted in favour of a European Commission (EC) and European Council proposal to change the EU’s GMO authorisation process.

This so called “opt-out” regulation has been called a GM “Trojan Horse” because although it will allow individual countries to ban GM cropping under a limited and restrictive criteria, it will free up others - such as the UK - to “opt-in” and allow GMO crops to be grown on their fields and thereby open up the EU to GM cropping.

The measure has been widely criticised by both NGOs and the GM industry and could well face legal challenges but nonetheless is expected to come into force later this spring.

UK minsters are not expecting commercial planting of GMO crops in this country immediately. In a letter to the Beyond GM campaign, Defra minster Lord de Mauley, confirmed that: “We do not expect any commercial planting of GM crops in the UK for at least a few years as no GM crops in the EU approval pipeline are of major interest to UK farmers.

But worryingly he goes on to say; “The government will ensure that pragmatic rules are in place to segregate GM and non-GM production”.

There is little doubt that “pragmatic” means as few and as weak as possible, with no rules on liability and nothing to ensure that ’the polluter pays’ in the event of organic and non-GM crops and habitats being contaminated.

Despite the efforts of the EP’s Environment Committee the new regulation does not contain mandatory measures to prevent contamination of non-GM crops or establish liability rules to give non-GMO farmers legal and financial protection.

These issues will be left to EU Member States and given the UK government’s obsession with GM technology it is unlikely that robust and legally binding arrangements to protect non-GM farmers and gardeners and the countryside will be put in place.

Instead we can expect:

  • The government’s push to sweep away the Precautionary Principle”, the “polluter pays” principle and indeed all legal and technical obstacles to GMOs in our farming and food, to increase momentum from the start of 2015.
  • The possibility – albeit a remote one – that Syngenta’s GMO maize (GA21) with tolerance to glyphosate could find some uptake in the UK by 2016.
  • Research institutions in the UK to gear up their GM crop trials and, using taxpayer money, plant more research field trials to benefit the GMO industry and private patent holders.
  • An increasing number of GMO ingredients and products to find their way into the UK food system.
  • And of course a continuation of the long running and ongoing scandal of supermarkets refusing to put GM labels on livestock products where the animals have been fed genetically engineered feed.

GM technology has comprehensively failed to deliver on its promises whilst alternative plant breeding methods go from strength to strength. The risks of widespread GMO contamination of the fields and gardens of the UK and the health risks – evidence of which continues to emerge – are simply too great.

Whichever government is in place after the election will be preparing a GMO push – farmers, gardeners and citizens should be prepared to resist.

Lawrence Woodward is former director of the Organic Research Centre – Elm Farm. He is now engaged through and on GM issues.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015