GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 11th  March 2004

GE companies will be held 'Liable'- says UK Government

Despite widespread anger at the UK government's approval for planting of GE maize, the crop might be 'dead in the water' if companies continue to refuse to accept liability for resulting harm.

The 'refusal-of -liability' position is one of the two pillars being used by industry to push GE on an unwilling public and still deliver profitability.

The other industry pillar is 'forced mandatory acceptance of GE contamination' in all food as the price the public must pay for "coexistence" of GE crops with conventional food. 

But both pillars are being undermined to the point where some sectors of the industry could soon collapse.

While the UK government has approved GE maize, they have also thrown a bombshell into the biotech industry by requiring GM companies foot the bill if anything goes wrong.

Minister Margaret Beckett said there must be compensation to non-GM farmers who suffer financial loss.

"I must make it clear that any such compensation scheme would need to be funded by the GM sector itself, rather than by government or producers of non-GM crops," she said.

GE Free NZ in food and environment believe this is the only reasonable approach to liability and that new laws are urgently needed in New Zealand. The other industry pillar- requiring widespread contamination by GE to be accepted as normal- is also under attack as scientists warn of the serious threat to the global food supply.

US scientists have shown GE crops like maize, canola and soya have caused massive contamination of equivalent conventional crops. What is worse is that "Pharm" crops- designed to produce pharmaceuticals- have also been involved in contaminating food crops.

Despite industry claims of "no harm" it is clearly a matter of time before the current deeply-flawed regulatory system results in a major incident of Pharmaceutical contamination of food.

"The ethical, scientific, and economic issues converge on one simple fact: until there is a system in place to keep GE crops- especially Pharm-crops- 100% separate from conventional supplies, they should not be commercialised anywhere in the world,"  says Jon Carapiet from GE-Free NZ in food and environment.

It is time for the Biotech companies to face the music. It is only reasonable that they keep their patented genes to themselves, not force them on others, and that they accept responsibility for what they are doing.

Contact Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

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Green light for GM crop, but rift threatens planting Government and industry divided over compensation.
Paul Brown, environment correspondent Wednesday March 10, 2004The Guardian 

A chasm opened up between the government and the biotech industryyesterday over compensation for conventional and organic farmers shouldtheir crops become contaminated with GM material. The disagreement couldscupper plans to plant GM maize in Britain.Giving the go-ahead for the first commercial GM crop in Britain, Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, said GM companies would foot the bill if anything went wrong. 

The industry says that is not acceptable. Mrs Beckett said there must be compensation to non-GM farmers who suffered financial loss through no fault of their own. "But I must make it clear that any such compensation scheme would need to be funded by the GM sector itself, rather than by government or producers of non-GM crops," she said. But Paul Rylott, the head of BioScience UK at Bayer Crop Science, which owns Chardon LL, the GM maize given the go-ahead, told the Guardian that the industry would never agree to such an idea. 

There was no evidence genetic modification was harmful and therefore no grounds for a compensation fund, he said. "We have not been asked to do anything of the kind anywhere else in the world, we do not intend to start in the UK," he said. The Agricultural Biotechnology Council, representing the industry, was anxious to avoid an open rift on the day it finally got permission for the first
crop after six years of debate and scientific trials. Bernard Marantelli, a spokesman, said if anything went wrong when a GM crop  was planted, farmers had normal redress through the law. 

"The industry has no intention of setting up a fund in advance, but we are prepared to talk to the government and see if some suitable arrangement can be made," he said. The government has the summer to develop a system for separating GM crops from conventional and organic crops which satisfies all sides - and to provide compensation if something goes wrong.

Mrs Beckett said the government was determined that no farmer should suffer because a neighbour decided to grow a GM crop. "It is for the GM companies or the GM farmer to compensate if things go wrong, either through malpractice by the farmer or mistakes by a company," she said.

The Royal Society and government advisers on the issue of liability were clear yesterday that both separation distances between crops and compensation were crucial if GM crops were to be successfully introduced. With more than 2,000 people vowing to pull up GM crops if they are planted, the government yesterday refused to commit itself on whether the locations of GM maize crops would be published.

Malcolm Grant, the chairman of the Biotechnology Commission, said: "I am concerned that there is no guarantee that the cultivation of GM crops will be delayed until a proper coexistence regime has been finalised, and a compensation system is in place for conventional and organic farmers whose crops are contaminated.

"And the question of liability in the event of environmental damage by GM crops remains unresolved. It is essential that these issues are addressed as a matter of urgency. "Tim Bennett, president of the National Farmers Union, said: "We support the decision by Margaret Beckett to adopt a science-based position on this controversial issue but we ask the government to proceed with caution.

Farmers and growers should not be excluded from technologies that have received regulatory and scientific approval, but it is essential that systems are established to allow GM and non GM production to co-exist. "Sarah North, Greenpeace GM campaigner, said: "Who on earth is Tony Blair listening to? 

He's given the nod to GM maize based on trials that anybody with a passing knowledge of A-level science would be able to tell you were flawed."

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