New rules give UK autonomy on GM crop cultivation but agri groups are not happy

Europe's decade-long deadlock on GM technology has ended this week as the European Commission has renationalised the authorisation of the cultivation of GM crops - giving member states permission to set their own rules on the issue.

As an EU member state the UK therefore has the power to restrict or ban GM crop cultivation by setting its own "coexistence rules" – that is, rules on how GM crops exist alongside other crops - for socio-economic or cultural reasons.

But although they have campaiged for the deadlock to be resolved both the NFU and the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) are unhappy - claiming the rules will disrupt and complicate the food supply chain and cause difficulties for farmers and growers.

GM products could spread around pro-GM countries more easily, for example, making it more difficult for conventional and organic growers to remain so.

NFU chief science and regulatory affairs adviser Dr Helen Ferrier said: "Instead of giving reassurances to support an effective and rigorous authorisation process for GM across the EU, this proposal is all about enabling countries to ban the growing of GM crops. The NFU represents all methods of farming and growing and has always believed that any GM legislation should be based around sound science, rather than politics or emotional rhetoric."

"Ultimately the market will decide if British growers use the technology. Effective coexistence is essential for farmers to make the choice between organic, conventional and GM. But the approach announced will cause serious problems with the internal market."

She added:  "We are very concerned that instead of making decisions based on science, member states can now legitimately use coexistence measures to restrict GM plantings and to lower labelling thresholds at either national or regional levels. This has the potential to severely disrupt internal markets and cause uncertainty throughout the agriculture and food supply chains, as well as add further confusion for consumers.

 "It may also lead to severe political and legal pressure on national governments and compromise their ability to make science-based policy decisions about GM crops.

"The UK Government must not rush ahead to set coexistence rules when we do not have any crops close to commercial cultivation in this country."

ABC chairman Dr Julian Little said: "ABC believes [the] decision will create legal uncertainty for farmers and set the clock back in the development of solutions to the challenges facing European agriculture. We will continue to stand by our call for policy to be based on rational, science-based decision making and hope that member states will recognised the public value that such an approach can bring."

Meanwhile the Soil Association has launched a 'GM NO!' campaign against "the relentless promotion of GM from the bio-tech industry and Government." 

It said: "The Soil Association needs support to counter the false arguments that GM is the future of our food, and to make the case for sustainable farming in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in 2013."

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