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Chronologically listed items for 2007 on this page in descending order - for items before 2007 go to UK 2006
Food and Feed Imports at Risk from GM Contamination - GM Pharma Crops Add to Threat
PRESS RELEASE, 8 May 2007
Today, GM Freeze published an assessment  of which food and feed imports into the UK are at greatest risk of GM contamination. Their report concluded that maize from the USA and South Africa and rice from the USA, and the Far East are highest risk at present but warn that even limited GM testing sites can contaminate whole supply chains for some crops. There is a growing risk of contamination of food and feed with GM pharmaceutical genes which are being engineered into food crops such as maize.
The GM Freeze report sets out a number of recommendations tougher EC regulations to reduce the risk of contaminated food entering the EU in the first place including:
• establishment of a single competent authority in each member state for GM monitoring incoming food, feed and biofuel cargoes and enforcement of GMO traceability and labelling.
• a legal obligation on biotech companies to provide analytical methods and reference materials for all the GM traits they have released anywhere commercially or experimentally as a pre-condition for receiving marketing or experimental consent for a GMO in the EU.
• establishment of an EU unit to monitor development in new GM traits and new GM crops around the world to ensure the up-to-date “at risk” list of imports plus their reference materials are available to all competent authorities and EU approved laboratories at all times.
• production of a publicly accessible and searchable website to allow food and feed companies access to this information.
• holding cargoes comprising of crops which have been genetically modified in the country of origin at the port of entry until proven to be an approved GMO or non-GM in content.
• the development of legally binding sampling protocols to ensure that of GM contents in cargoes can be assessed with the highest possible certainty.
• a return to sender approach to cargoes containing unauthorised GM traits.
• strict liability on biotechnology companies whose GM traits cause contamination for harm to health and the environment or cause economic damage.
Next year the Conference of Parties of the Biosafety Protocol meets in Bonn and GM Freeze want the EC to make sure the GM contamination issue is dealt with at this meeting by negotiating for
• an international register of GM trait for all crops which are being field tested or commercially grown anywhere on the planet.
• a ban on the genetic modification for pharmaceutical production in food crops.
• a legally binding international regime that ensures strict liability for damage caused by GMOs.
The Freeze also wants the EU to provide financial and technical support to enable poorer countries to monitor their imports for GM contamination and support them to enforce border controls.
At home the report calls upon the Food Standards Agency to follow a similar programme and take GM contamination as a serious issue.
The Freeze’s analysis  is based on over 170 plant species which have so far been genetically modified somewhere on the Earth, the extent to which they are grown commercially or on test sites and the volumes of imports into the UK for each crop. In the last three years, Europe has experienced a number of costly and illegal GM contamination incidents including:
GM papaya from Hawaii 2005
Bt10 maize from the USA (Syngenta) 2005
LL6021 rice from the USA (Bayer) 2006
Bt Rice from China (illegal commercial cultivation thought to be responsible) 2006
Most recently Mon 863 Maize (Monsanto) and Heculex maize (Pioneer Hybrid/Dow) were found to be contaminating cargo in Ireland  and the UK found illegal Bt63 rice in animal feed .
Commenting Pete Riley campaign Director of GM Freeze said, “The analysis we have carried out should really have been done by the EU or the EU member states if they had their act together. Our proposals would greatly reduce the chances of illegal GM imports entering the food chain and make sure approved GM cargoes are correctly labelled. The politicians and regulators of the EU need to make sure they are not being made to look stupid by a biotech industry which does not appear to care a fig about consumer choice or preventing contamination. In the UK, politicians need to make sure that the FSA is taking GM contamination seriously. There is no sign that they are at present. There is a real risk that the next GM contamination incident could involve GM pharmaceuticals and present a real public health crisis. They have been warned!”
Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065 Eve Mitchell 0207 837 0642
1. GM Freeze’s Report GM Contamination imports of food and feed at risk. Measures needed to reduce the threat is available from www.gmfreeze.org/publications/
2. Details of GM Freeze’s analysis can be review at www.gmfreeze.org/publications//contaminationanalysis/pdf
3. See http://www.gmfreeireland.org/press/GMFI35.pdf
4. See http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2007/apr/gmamfeed
Eve Mitchell, Co-ordinator, GM FREEZE CAMPAIGN, 94 White Lion Street, London, N1 9PF - Tel: 020 7837 0642 - Fax: 020 7837 1141
firstname.lastname@example.org - www.gmfreeze.org
GM and non-GM crops too close, study says - The Daily Telegraph, 1 June 2007
Field trials could be underestimating the potential for cross-pollination between genetically modified and conventional crops, according to researchers from the University of Exeter. The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and is published in the journal Ecological Applications. The team used records of wind speed and direction across Europe to predict the movement of pollen in the air. The findings showed huge variation in the amount of cross-pollination between GM and non-GM crops of maize, oilseed rape, rice and sugar beet. Levels varied according to whether the GM field was upwind or downwind of the non-GM field.
If the GM field in a trial is downwind of the non-GM field, the trial will underestimate the potential for cross-pollination. "We were struck by the strong influence of wind direction on the amount of cross-pollination', said Martin Hoyle, one of the researchers. "Recommended minimum distances between GM and conventional crops may need to be increased based on our findings," he added.
Alarm as GM pollen wafts way beyond the official buffer zones - By SEAN POULTER - The Daily Mail, 31st May 2007
Pollen from genetically-modified crops can spread far further than previously thought, research has shown. The findings raise questions over whether the Government-approved 'buffer zones' around GM farms will be big enough to prevent contamination of conventional crops. The size of these buffer zones was decided after large-scale field trials carried out across Britain over the last five years. But now a team from the University of Exeter has called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to increase the zones to minimise pollen pollution.
Scientists are concerned that if contamination occurs, it could lead to the creation of 'superweeds' with an immunity to chemical sprays. The Exeter team created a mathematical model on pollen spread using data on wind strengths from weather stations in the UK and Europe. They found that pollen could contaminate surrounding fields at a rate two to three times higher than originally thought. Lead researcher Martin Hoyle said: "Once you have GM crops growing, contamination of other crops will inevitably occur. "The only question is how you minimise that to the required threshold. Spread of GM pollen on the wind is only one factor." "There is also seed contamination and the fact that GM crops grown on a field in the past may persist among any new crops that are planted."
The study builds on research which has already found that GM pollen can fertilise conventional crops within a ten-mile radius. The findings present the worrying possibility of vast swathes of the countryside - including organic farms - becoming contaminated by GM crops. Critics are demanding the Government tears up its plans to allow GM farming in this country, which could start within just two years. Friends of the Earth called for a moratorium on commercial GM farming until the risks were fully understood. Its spokesman Clare Oxborrow said: "This new research makes clear that there are still so many gaps in our knowledge about the implications of GM farming. "We are talking about a step that will lead to the irreversible GM contamination of the countryside-and our food." "This technology-has been utterly rejected by the public yet ministers continue to try to steamroller ahead. This research makes clear it is time to take a step back and think again."
The Government and the EU are working on the basis that it will be legal and acceptable to allow GM contamination of other crops, including organic ones, up to a threshold of 0.9 per cent. That means that if less than one plant in a hundred is contaminated, the entire harvest can be referred to as 'GM-free'. That is totally unacceptable to the organic farming movement, which argues that any GM contamination is an assault on the purity of the food. The Government is currently proposing a buffer zone of just 35metres around fields of GM oilseed rape to meet the 0.9 per cent threshold. It claims a buffer zone of up to 58metres would be need to keep contamination below 0.1 per cent.
The Exeter research suggests, however, that a 500metre gap would be needed to ensure contamination is kept below this level. The current plan for the buffer zone around maize is put at 110 metres. But the research suggests it may need to be seven or eight times greater. Mr Hoyle said: "Defra will need to think about extending the separation distances used for GM crops in the light of these findings."
The research findings are published today in the journal Ecological Applications.
GM Potato Trial cancellation has wider implications -14th May
GM Freeze welcomed the decision of the biotech company BASF not to proceed with a trial of GM blight resistant potatoes near Hedon in East Yorkshire this year because of concerns of local borage farmers about the availability of bee hives to help pollinate their crop. The Hedon area is home to three major borage growers who grow the high value crop to produce gamma linoleum acid (GLA) which is used therapeutically for a number of common health conditions. The crop relies on beekeepers to bring in hives of honey bees to ensure a height level of pollination is achieved.
Following the announcement in March 2007 by BASF about the GM potato trial, the beekeepers expressed concerns to the borage farmers about the possible contamination of borage honey with GM pollen and pointed to their industry's guidance that required hives to be a minimum of 6 miles from the nearest GM site. The owner of the proposed GM site was reported to want the borage farmers concerns had to be dealt with before he finally agreed to the trial going ahead. Today's decision not to go ahead with the trial in 2007 by BASF indicates that their attempts to reassure the borage farmers have failed. Defra issued a release consent for the trial today meaning it can go ahead in future years.
The case has wider implications for GM crops. Last year Defra's consultation on the coexistence of GM, conventional and organic crops did not include beekeepers in the list of people who would be statutorily required to be informed by a farmer intending to commercially grow a GM crop.  The value of pollination services provided to farmers by beekeepers is put at £120 to £200 million per annum.  Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: "The cancellation of the Hedon GM potato site is warmly welcomed - we could never see the point of allowing this commercial development trial to go ahead when we already have a growing number of blight resistant potato varieties produced by conventional plant breeding. Consumers don't want GM potatoes and the potato processors have said they will not use them. We hope this is the end of GM trialling in Hedon and the rest of the UK.......The impact of the trials on honey and beekeepers has been central to the cancellation. If any GM crops are ever approved for commercial growing in the UK this type of problem could become common place. Defra have repeatedly tried to ignore the impact of GM crops on beekeepers and the potential economic impacts but at Hedon they have been stung. The economic and agricultural importance of honey bees can no longer by sidelined by Defra's GM policies. Ministers need to learn the lesson of the debacle over the Hedon site and protect beepers from GM contamination in the future".
Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065
 Parliamentary Answer from Ian Pearson to Joan Ruddock MP 3 May 2007 House of Commons Hansard Column 1792
Freeze Calls for Honesty from BASF and Defra on the GM Spud Trials - 24th April 2007 - PRESS RELEASE
GM Freeze has called for Defra and BASF to be open with local people in East Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire about both the facts of and the purpose for the GM potato trials planned in each place. Defra must delay any decision on trials until the safety of the potatoes has been established.
At a recent meeting BASF officials confirmed to GM Freeze that the genes used in the GM potatoes came from a Mexican wild relative of the potato and not, as previously stated by BASF, a “wild potato”.  While the wild relative, Solanum bulbocastanum, is found in Mexico and cannot naturally cross breed with potatoes, potatoes are members of the nightshade family - a group of plants known to naturally produce toxins.  There are concerns that such toxins from the wild relative may be carried into the GM potatoes inadvertently and thus enter the food chain.
There is also confusion over the purposes of the trials. The BASF applications states:
“The purpose of the release of the genetically modified plant, including its initial use and any intention to use it as or in a product in the future. The trials will be conducted for development purposes. In the first three to four years the purpose of the small-scale experimental trial will be the screening of events for improved resistance to Phytophthora infestans (proof of concept under UK field conditions with UK specific Phytophthora infestans strains). In addition during the course of the trial the following will be observed and recorded: agronomic performance (e.g. plant vigour and yield), and selected plant characteristics (e.g. emergence, flowering, maturation), as well as stability of the trait.”
The trial will also be used to gather environmental data required to obtain commercial approval for the GM potatoes. However in February a Defra press release ignored many of the commercial aspects of the trial: “The trials will test the effectiveness of the potato's resistance against UK strains of the disease.”  In contrast, in a February press release BASF were confident that the GM potatoes were blight resistant: “The plants BASF will be field testing have already shown (in the greenhouse and the field) that they can complement the existing resistance and provide the plant with much stronger protection from late blight.”  BASF confirmed to GM Freeze that they intend to test 80 lines of GM potatoes in East Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire.
Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: “BASF confirmed to me that their previous greenhouse and outdoor trials in Europe have already convinced them that GM blight resistance is effective. It is now clear that the Cambridgeshire and East Yorkshire trials are about the commercial development of GM potatoes and not merely to test if the resistance is effective. The use of genes from a wild relative of potatoes, and not wild potatoes, raise additional safety concerns that need to be cleared up before outdoor trials commence. We need to be sure that none of the 80 GM lines are producing unexpected toxins. The company and Defra are guilty of putting out misleading information. It’s time BASF came clean and made a clear, honest statement about the true purpose behind these risky trials and present clear evidence that the GM spuds are safe. Defra should not approve the trial until the safety has been established.”
Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065
1. “The potatoes have been modified, using a natural trait found in a wild potato, to resist the devastating fungal disease late blight.” BASF press release, 27 February 2007. CW669-07
2. British Poisonous Plants. MAFF Bulletin 161 1968 potatoes produce toxins known as alkaloidal glycosides or solanines in the green parts of the plant. Symptoms include chronic anaemia, gastritis and can be fatal in humans if not treated.
3. See http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2007/070227b.htm and also http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2006/061201b.htm
4. BASF press release, 27 February 2007. CW669-07
Eve Mitchell, Co-ordinator, GM FREEZE CAMPAIGN, 94 White Lion Street, London, N1 9PF
Tel: 020 7837 0642 - Fax: 020 7837 1141 - email@example.com - www.gmfreeze.org
HONEY FEARS MAY SCUPPER GM POTATO TRIAL - Press release, April 21 2007
The farmer due to grow an experimental GM potato trial in East Yorkshire may pull out because of the impact that the trial might have on neighbouring crops . The revelation comes as the Government consultation for the GM trial by biotech firm BASF, closes and campaigners hold a protest rally and GM-free potato picnic today (Saturday) . Farmers near the East Yorkshire trial farm are concerned about the threat that the GM potato trial poses to their borage crops. Borage is a high value crop grown to produce starflower oil for health food supplements and skincare products. But local borage growers fear massive financial losses if the GM trial goes ahead because beekeepers (whose bees are vital to help pollinate the borage crop and produce speciality borage honey) do not want to bring their hives into the fields for fear that their honey will be contaminated. One borage farmer alone estimates that this could result in a GBP50,000 loss. Companies like Rowse Honey and Sainsbury's require beekeepers supplying them with honey to place their hives at least six miles away from any trial site .
The GM potato trial  has faced intense local opposition. Both East Riding District Council and Hedon Town council have voted against the trials. And local MP Graham Stuart, who supports the borage farmers, believes that BASF's proposals had been rushed and that the trial shouldn't go ahead this year. Furhermore, a local petition against the trial has attracted hundreds of signatures. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs public consultation on the trial closed yesterday (Friday) . Campaigners do not hold much hope that it will be rejected, despite strong opposition, because Environment Secretary David Miliband personally approved trials for the same crop in Cambridge last year.
Friends of the Earth's GM Campaigner, Clare Oxborrow said: "BASF was so desperate to get its GM potatoes in the ground that it neglected to consult with the local community and failed to realise the impact that this trial would have on nearby borage growers. The farmer due to host the trial is rightly concerned about the impacts on neighbouring farmers. He should pull out and the trial should be scrapped. If this trial goes ahead it will not only risk a huge financial blow for farmers, but also threatens to contaminate future non-GM potato supplies. Conventional breeding already produces blight-resistant potato varieties. There are too many risks and costs involved in trialing this product that no-one wants."
 The farmer due to host the BASF trial farms land on the Preston/Hedon border but lives over 10 miles away in Welwick. He has not yet signed the contract to conduct the trial. http://www.holderness-gazette.co.uk/artgmpotatotrials.htm
 For more information about the rally and GM free picnic see http://www.mutatoes.org/
 http://www.defra.gov.uk/hort/Bees/meet06.htm - http://www.j-sainsbury.com/files/reports/cr2005/index.asp?pageid=52
 BASF plans trials of blight resistant GM potatoes at two sites in the UK, Cambridge (which already has Government approval) and Hedon/Preston, East Riding of Yorkshire. Plans for the same trials in Ireland were abandoned because the Irish Government imposed tough conditions on the trial. The conditions imposed by Defra are much weaker, making it easier and cheaper for BASF to go ahead with trials in England www.gmfreeze.org/page.asp?id=309&iType=1079
Vigilance Still Needed on GM Rice Contamination
GM Freeze is calling on the Food Standards Agency, as well as food retailers and manufacturers, to be on maximum alert to prevent further imports of GM contaminated US long grain rice after Swedish authorities announced yesterday finding Bayer’s unauthorised GM LL601 in pre-packed US rice.
Sweden imported the rice in January 2007, five months after the US authorities informed the EU of the contamination they had first discovered in January 2006. Earlier this year another important variety of long grain rice in the US, BASF's non-GM Clearfield, was found to be contaminated with 4 GM traits developed by Bayer. GM contaminated rice was available for purchase in UK shops as late as January 2007, more than two months after the FSA claimed no contaminated rice remained on the market.
Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: “It is pretty clear that the GM contamination of US rice has not yet run its course. The whole of the UK's food industry, from supermarkets to catering establishments, needs to be very vigilant to prevent further contamination of our supply chains. The Food Standards Agency must ensure that the food chain is being adequately monitored to ensure that no contaminated lots get through and contaminated stocks are removed from the market.”
Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065
 See http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2007/03/CL131update3-9-07.shtml
Eve Mitchell, Co-ordinator, GM FREEZE CAMPAIGN, 94 White Lion Street, London, N1 9PF - Tel: 020 7837 0642 - Fax: 020 7837 1141
firstname.lastname@example.org - www.gmfreeze.org
CALLS FOR GM SPUD TRIALS TO BE SCRAPPED AFTER DUTCH COURT RULING
Press Release - Wednesday 14 March 2007
Friends of the Earth and GM Freeze are today calling on the Government to suspend plans for experimental trials of GM potatoes in the UK. The call comes after a Dutch court ordered permits for trials in the Netherlands to be destroyed because the risks to the environment had not been properly assessed. The UK trials of BASF's blight resistant potatoes are due to take place from this spring at two locations for a period of five years. One site is a research centre in Cambridge, the other is proposed for Hedon/Preston, East Riding of Yorkshire .
A Dutch court last week found that the Government had illegally permitted the experimental trials in the Netherlands of the same BASF blight resistant potatoes and ordered the permits to be destroyed . The judge found that the insufficient evidence had been put forward to show that the potatoes had been properly tested in a controlled environment (like a greenhouse) before being released in the open, and that the Dutch Ministry had been unable to conduct the required environmental risk assessment because BASF had failed to provide specific information regarding the location of the trial sites. Friends of the Earth has discovered that in the UK, BASF has also not provided the Government with the exact site locations, and can wait until a week before planting before doing so.
Friends of the Earth and GM Freeze have written to David Miliband, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, calling on him to suspend the UK trials to allow his department to investigate the implications of the Dutch court decision and commission updated advice from its advisory committee, ACRE. Friends of the Earth's GM Campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "These new environmental concerns should prompt the Government to rethink plans to allow BASF to grow its GM potatoes in the UK. The trials are unnecessary and unwanted. Blight resistant potatoes are already available through conventional breeding and there is simply no market for GM spuds in the UK. "
GM Freeze Director, Pete Riley, said: "Mr Miliband must prevent GM potatoes being grown in Britain while he considers the Dutch court ruling that the BASF GM potatoes have not been sufficiently tested. There is clearly an urgent need to review the scientific evidence. These trials should not proceed as planned". Friends of the Earth and GM Freeze have already raised concerns about the trials, including risks of contaminating future potato crops, absence of food safety data, lack of need and consumer rejection 
In a further development, it has been reported that BASF has abandoned its plans to trial GM potatoes in Ireland . It had delayed starting the trial after strong public opposition and tough conditions imposed by the Irish Government last year. The UK Government has imposed much weaker restrictions, making it cheaper and easier for BASF to trial their crops here.
Contact: Clare Oxborrow: 020 7566 1716 / 07712 843211 - Pete Riley: 07903341065
 Following the withdrawal from the trials of the farmer in Derbyshire, BASF have found a new location in Hedon/Preston, East Riding of Yorkshire. The Government is currently conducting a public consultation over the change in location, but it is highly likely to grant approval. http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2007/070227b.htm
 http://www.gene.ch/genet/2007/Mar/msg00031.html Court decision (Dutch): http://www.raadvanstate.nl/verdicts/verdict_details.asp?verdict_id=16397
 http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/government_slammed_over_gr_01122006.html - http://www.gmfreeze.org/page.asp?id=309&iType=1079
GM SPUDS HAVE HAD THEIR CHIPS AS IRISH TRIALS STOPPED - By Aideen Sheehan - Irish Independent, 12 March 2007
CHEMICAL giant BASF has abandoned its plans to grow genetically modified potatoes in Ireland. It is now opting to grow them in Britain where there are fewer restrictions. A company spokesperson confirmed that the company would not be going ahead with field trials in Co Meath which received approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year.
BASF delayed starting the trial last year citing the onerous monitoring requirements imposed by the EPA. The firm said at the time that it would assess whether it could find a way to proceed in 2007. However, a spokesperson has confirmed to the Irish Independent that the company has decided to abandon the Irish experiment and has opted to trial the GM potatoes in Britain instead, provoking the ire of environmentalists there. The potatoes are genetically altered to improve resistance to blight, the most serious potato pest, with opponents claiming they could contaminate conventional crops.
"We don't need GM potatoes and there is no consumer demand for them. The Government should promote safe and sustainable agriculture, not this half-baked GM potato plan," said Friends of the Earth campaigner Clare Oxborrow.
Although the GM experiment is slow to take off in Ireland, the GM-Free Ireland network claimed last week that Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan is determined to legalise the release of GM crops after the general election. Regulations on the co-existence of GM and conventional crops are expected to be finalised, but opponents want controls tight enough to make it almost impossible to grow GM food.
A number of county councils around the country have declared themselves GM-free zones, but this has no legal power as the EPA is the body charged with approving the cultivation of GM organisms. However, official figures show that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of genetically modified (GM) animal feed are now being imported each year. Up to 95pc of all the maize and soya brought into the country for use as animal feed is genetically modified, which is legal as long as it is correctly labelled. Some 464,000 tonnes of GM maize, 204,000 tonnes of GM soya and 4,300 tonnes of GM rape-seed were imported last year.
Freeze calls for prompt action by FSA following further GM contamination of rice from USA - PRESS RELEASE - 6th March 2007
GM Freeze has contacted the Food Standards Agency asking for details of the action they intend to take to prevent illegal GM rice entering the food chain following the confirmation that non GM rice has been contaminated with GM traits.
During the previous contamination incident announced in August 2006, the FSA were slow to ensure that stocks contaminated with Bayer LL601 strain already on sale were traced and removed from shops and catering establishments. On this occasion LL62 rice has been detected in Clearfield 131 variety which is widely grown in the US. Neither LL601 or LL62 can be legally sold in the EU.
Commenting, Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: “We want to see prompt and decisive action from the FSA on this occasion to ensure that all parts of the food chain act quickly to ensure no GM contaminated rice is continued to be sold. During the last incident their actions were slow and not comprehensive. We trust lessons have been learnt so that on this occasion the public can be sure that the long grain rice they buy is not contaminated. In addition, its time the FSA persuaded the EU to get tough with the USA to clean up their act and prevent contamination at source”.
Aphis report is here http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/biotechnology/content/printable_version/ia_ge_rice.pdf
Carrie Stebbings, Co-ordinator, GM FREEZE CAMPAIGN, 94 White Lion Street, London, N1 9PF
Tel: 020 7837 0642 - Fax: 020 7837 1141 - email@example.com - www.gmfreeze.org
GM Spuds - Industry Can't Agree on Blight Costs - GM FREEZE, PRESS RELEASE - 28th February 2007
BASF, the company wanting to field test GM potatoes in Cambridgeshire and Humberside  over the next five years, and the British Potato Council (BPC) cannot agree about the annual costs of blight damage in UK potatoes. BASF want to test GM potatoes engineered to resist blight. They claim  that the annual losses due to blight amount to £50 million per year with GBP20 million needed to pay for fungicides. In contrast, BPC  put the cost of damage due to blight at GBP3 million. They agree with BASF on the costs of fungicide spray. GM Freeze has assessed the claims made about the losses due to blight by BASF. Based on BPC's average price  of GBP135 per tonne, a GBP50 million loss would equate to 370,000 tonnes of potatoes or 6.2% of total production of 6m tonnes annually (BPC figures). Using BPCs figures, the losses would be just 22,250 tonnes per year or 0.4% of the total crop.
Blight is a serious fungal disease of potatoes. In recent years considerable progress has been made in predicting the occurrence of blight and in developing varieties which are naturally resistant to the disease. At present 20% of the most popular commercial varieties offer good resistance to the disease and potato breeding lines introduced from Hungary are producing highly resistant strains . The BPC Flight Against Blight (FAB) campaign monitors the blight population regularly to check for new strains of the fungus which in the past few decades has developed the capacity to reproduce sexually as well as asexually. The latest BPC finding "indicates that strains are not successfully mating in Britain and producing oospores which could otherwise lead to difficulties controlling the disease" . However, they call upon growers "to stay alert for signs of blight and control sources of infection such as outgrade piles and volunteers" and to sign up to FAB and BPC's Blight Watch which monitors the disease around the country.
Defra issued a consent to BASF in December 2007 to release the GM potatoes in Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire. In an unusual step, the consent was personally signed by Secretary of State David Miliband instead of senior civil servants. The Derbyshire site was withdrawn two weeks later and this week BASF informed Defra of a replacement site at Hedon in Humberside. The trials will last 5 years.
Commenting of the lack of agreement between BASF and the BPC Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: "BASF clearly have a vested interested in exaggerating the costs of potato blight losses - they want to sell the idea of GM potatoes to farmers and politicians. BPC don't have to inflate the costs of damage. We'll leave it to readers to decide who is likely to be more accurate. Mr Miliband has firmly nailed his colours to the GM mast by personally endorsing these GM trials. Let's hope he has not been taken in by BASF's hype and that gets he gets better advice if he ever has to make decision on whether these GM potatoes can be grown commercially. GM won't solve the blight problem because the disease can evolve into new strains. What is needed is an integrated approach of conventionally breeding resistant varieties, close monitoring and very strict hygiene to minimise the use of fungicides".
Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065 or 01226 790713
1. BASF press release 27th February. See also http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/regulation/applications/index.htm
2. As above.
3. British Potato Council Growers Advice Fight Against Blight http://www.potato.org.uk/media_files/FAB_GAs/01outgradehygiene2005.pdf
4. Sarpo varieties are being developed by the Sartavi Research Trust. See for more information http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/GM_Spudsoverview_webbriefing.pdf
5. BPC press release February 2007 http://www.potato.org.uk/department/knowledge_transfer/press_releases/index.html?did=2085&pg=1
Freeze Welcomes Judges List of Mistakes in FSA Handling of GM Rice Contamination - 23rd February 2007
GM Freeze has welcomed acknowledgement of a High Court judge that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had made mistakes in the way they handled the contamination of US long grain rice imports with an unapproved GM traits last summer. The campaigning group is calling upon the FSA to break their close relationship with industry and for Parliament to take far greater interest in the operations of the Agency.
In a Judicial Review brought against the FSA by Friends of the Earth, Justice Calvert-Smith ruled that the food safety watch dog had not acted illegally in failing to require local authorities and companies to take action to verify that all contaminated rice which was already in the retail and catering supply chains had been traced and removed from sale (22nd February). However, in his ruling the judge identified three mistakes in the way the FSA had dealt with the contamination incident. These were their:
• failure to issue any Food Alerts to local authorities.
• failure to notify the public of which batches of rice were contaminated.
• failure to provide legal guidance to local authorities at the start of the incident
The FSA have agreed to hold an internal review on how it handled the GM rice contamination incident.
The contamination of US long grain rice with GM rice, known as LL601, was discovered in January 2006 but the EU authorities were not informed until mid August. The GM rice had been grown in test sites in the USA between 1998 and 2001 but had not received any approval for commercial growing anywhere in the world. It was illegal to sell the rice in the EU. The dossier of safety data required for a commercial approval was not complete and therefore the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) were unable to complete a full safety assessment and to say, with certainty, whether the GM rice was safe to eat.
Initially, the FSA announced there were no public safety issues  associated with the LL601 but later revised their advice following the EFSA’s opinion which acknowledged the lack of data. Minutes of private meetings between the food industry and FSA showed that the FSA were advising companies that it did not “expect contaminated products already in the food supply chain to be removed from sale” and “does not expect companies to trace products and remove them from sale’ .
Over five weeks (21st and 25th September) after the GM contamination was first announced, GM Freeze supporters were able to buy batches of contaminated rice from Morrisons’ store in Taunton. GM Freeze reported these purchases to Somerset Trading Standards but no legal action was taken.
In January 2006 GM Freeze published a report of a survey on how well the GMO traceability and labelling regulations were being enforced and warned the FSA that the UK was open to future GM contamination incidents .
Commenting on the outcome of yesterday’s case Pete Riley Campaign Director of GM Freeze said: “The FSA were well aware of the risk of further GM contamination and that the UK was ill equipped to deal with such incidents so the judge’s criticisms of their handling the GM rice case are fully justified. The next contamination incident could involve crops genetically modified to produce drugs or vaccines. The FSA’s review of their handling of this case must include a substantial input from outside and the outcome and evidence must be published in full. In our view, Parliament needs to take a more active role in overseeing the performance of the FSA to ensure that they become a true consumer watchdog and that they break their cosy relationship with industry”.
Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341065/01226 790713
1. FSA press release 1st September 2006.
2. Food and Drink Federation minutes of a meeting with the FSA.
3. See http://www.gmfreeze.org/admin/uploads/report_doc.pdf
Carrie Stebbings, Co-ordinator, GM FREEZE CAMPAIGN, 94 White Lion Street, London, N1 9PF - Tel: 020 7837 0642 - Fax: 020 7837 1141
firstname.lastname@example.org - www.gmfreeze.org
RULING ON LEGAL CHALLENGE AGAINST THE FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY - 22 FEBRUARY 2007
A High Court Judge ruled on Friends of the Earths legal challenge against the Food Standards Agency over illegal GM rice in the food chain today (22 February).
Whilst the Judge did not find that the FSA had acted unlawfully he highlighted a number of mistakes the organisation had made in dealing with the emergency. These include its decision not to issue a food alert and the late provision of advice to local authorities. The Judge also said that public authorities such as the FSA should be allowed to make mistakes without attracting legal sanction. The FSA committed to carrying out an internal review of how they handled the GM emergency and to take on board the criticisms of the judge.
Friends of the Earth GM Campaigner, Clare Oxborrow said: “Whilst we are disappointed that the Judge did not find the FSA had acted unlawfully we are pleased that he recognised the Food Standards Agency had made a number of mistakes in its handling of the emergency. We are pleased the FSA will be carrying out an internal review of this incident and hope that these mistakes are not repeated in the future.”
For more information contact Clare Oxborrow on 07712 843211 or the press office on 0207 566 1649
UK FSA challenged in court over GM contamination - By Anthony Fletcher - Wednesday, February 21, 2007
A pressure group plans to legally challenge the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) over its alleged failure to act over imports of illegal GM rice. The Judicial Review, called for by Friends of the Earth (FoE), is due to be heard in court today. The case centres on the contamination of long grain rice with an experimental and GM strain grown in the US. On 18 August last year, the US Department of Agriculture announced that an illegal GM rice strain, unapproved for human consumption, had been found in long grain rice supplies destined for export. The rice, LLRICE601, owned by biotechnology company Bayer CropScience, has been genetically modified to be resistant to the company's weed killer, Liberty (glufosinate). The contamination was initially discovered in January 2006, but it wasn't until July that its identity was confirmed as LLRICE601.
Friends of the Earth argues that the FSA failed in its legal obligations to check for contaminated rice on the market in the UK, and should have done more to work with local authorities and the food industry to make sure illegal GM rice was detected and removed from shelves and other parts of the market.
The pressure group is seeking a legal declaration stating that the FSA failed in its legal obligations over this incident by failing to take action and by ignoring potentially contaminated rice that reached the market since January 2006. "A declaration stating that the FSA failed in its legal obligations would set an important precedent and ensure that if such a GM contamination incident happens in the future, the FSA would take much more effective action to ensure that UK consumers are not exposed to illegal GM ingredients," said FoE in a statement. "It should also lead to a thorough investigation into the FSA's biased approach to GM foods and a more pro-active policy on testing food imports for illegal GM contamination."
This incident has had an impact on the rice industry. Rice futures prices plummeted $150 million and experts have predicted that US rice exports may decline by as much as 16 per cent in 2006/2007. Several multi-million dollar class action lawsuits and several individual lawsuits have been filed against Bayer by US farmers who have suffered severe financial losses.
The rice industry has said that action has been taken. Last year, The European Federation of Rice Millers, which represents about 90 per cent of all EU trade in rice, gave an outline of the controls carried out by its members so far. Of the 162 samples for which there are already results using one of the validated testing methods, 33 tested positive for LL601, it said in September. Any consignments that tested positive have already been recalled or withheld from the market and the Federation's members have committed to continuing such withdrawals for any positive findings. The Commission has consistently reminded the industry of its legal obligation to inform Member State authorities when a consignment on their markets is found to contain an unauthorised GMO.
© 2000/2007 Decision News Media SAS
Suppressed report shows cancer link to GM potatoes - By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor - The Independent, 17 February 2007
Campaigners against genetically modified crops in Britain last are calling for trials of GM potatoes this spring to be halted after releasing more evidence of links with cancers in laboratory rats. UK Greenpeace activists said the findings, obtained from Russian trials after an eight-year court battle with the biotech industry, vindicated research by Dr Arpad Pusztai, whose work was criticised by the Royal Society and the Netherlands State Institute for Quality Control.
The disclosure last night of the Russian study on the GM Watch website led to calls for David Miliband, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to withdraw permission for new trials on GM potatoes to go ahead at secret sites in the UK this spring. Alan Simpson, a Labour MP and green campaigner, said: "These trials should be stopped. The research backs up the work of Arpad Pusztai and it shows that he was the victim of a smear campaign by the biotech industry. There has been a cover-up over these findings and the Government should not be a party to that." Mr Simpson said the findings, which showed that lab rats developed tumours, were released by anti-GM campaigners in Wales. Dr Pusztai and a colleague used potatoes that had been genetically modified to produce a protein, lectin. They found cell damage in the rats' stomachs, and in parts of their intestines.
The research is likely to spark a fresh row about GM crops in Britain. Graham Thompson, a Greenpeace campaigner, said: "It is important because it backs up the research by Pusztai, which was smeared at the time by the industry." Brian John of GM Free Cymru, who released the findings, said the research was conducted in 1998 by the Institute of Nutrition of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and has been suppressed for eight years. It showed that the potatoes did considerable damage to the rats' organs. Those in the "control groups" that were fed non-GM potatoes suffered ill-effects, but those fed GM potatoes suffered more serious organ and tissue damage.
The potatoes contained an antibiotic resistance marker gene. The institute that carried out the studies refused to release all the information. However, Greenpeace and other consumer groups mounted a protracted legal battle campaign to obtain the report. In May 2004 the Nikulinski District Court in Russia ruled that information relating to the safety of GM food should be open to the public. The institute, however, refused to release the report. Greenpeace and Russian activist groups again took the institute to court, and won a ruling that the report must be released.
Irina Ermakova, a consultant for Greenpeace, said she had conducted her own animal feeding experiments with GM materials. "The GM potatoes were the most dangerous of the feeds used in the trials ... and on the basis of this evidence they cannot be used in the nourishment of people." Greenpeace said the Russian trials were also badly flawed. Half of the rats in the trial died, and results were taken from those that survived, in breach of normal scientific practice.
ILLEGAL GM RICE IN THE UK - FRIENDS OF THE EARTH TAKES FSA TO COURT - Friends of the Earth Press Release
Judicial Review: 20/21 February - Press Office: 020 7566 1649
Friends of the Earth's judicial review of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for its failure to act over illegal genetically modified (GM) rice that entered the UK food chain last year will be heard in the High Court on Tuesday/ Wednesday 20th and 21st February. The case centres on the contamination of US long grain rice with an experimental GM strain grown in the US - the most significant illegal GM food contamination incident to affect the UK to date. It is now known to have contaminated rice on sale in supermarkets in the UK and around the world.
Friends of the Earth believes that the FSA has failed in its legal obligations to check for contaminated rice on the market in the UK, and should have done more to work with local authorities and the food industry to make sure illegal GM rice was detected and removed from shelves and other parts of the market .
What does Friends of the Earth want?
Friends of the Earth is seeking a legal declaration that the FSA failed in its legal obligations over this incident. Concerns include:
*Failing to take action to implement emergency EU legislation to make sure that illegal GM rice was not sold to UK consumers
*Ignoring potentially contaminated rice that reached the market since January 2006. Instead it focused on "preventing any further GM-containing stocks entering the UK markets".
*Ignoring the precautionary principle enshrined in EU GM law. Instead it stated early on in the incident that the presence of GM rice in the food chain "is not a health concern" despite the lack of scientific evidence to back this up
*Meeting privately with the food industry and telling them that there was no need to withdraw any contaminated rice that they found, despite the fact that any presence of unapproved GM ingredients is illegal
*Failing to require enforcement action by local food authorities such as testing for contaminated rice in their areas.
A declaration stating that the FSA failed in its legal obligations would set an important precedent and ensure that if such a GM contamination incident happens in the future, the FSA would take much more effective action to ensure that UK consumers are not exposed to illegal GM ingredients. Friends of the Earth is also calling for the FSA to carry out a thorough review of its approach to GM foods (which has been described as giving "the impression that it supported the concept of GM foods" in an independent review in 2005) and to ensure that it puts in place a more pro-active policy on testing food imports for illegal contamination.
Illegal GM rice found in the food chain
On 18 August last year, the US Department of Agriculture announced that an illegal GM rice strain, unapproved for human consumption, had contaminated long grain rice supplies destined for export. The rice, LLRICE601, owned by biotechnology company Bayer CropScience, has been genetically modified to be resistant to the company's weedkiller, Liberty (glufosinate). The contamination was initially discovered in January 2006, but it wasn?t until July that its identity was confirmed as LLRICE601. Contaminated long grain rice had been exported from the US for at least seven months.
LLRICE601 was grown experimentally in the US from 1999 to 2001 and following the field trials, Bayer were not intending to pursue commercialisation. At the time the contamination was revealed, the rice had not been approved as safe for cultivation or food use anywhere in the world. Bayer has developed two other GM rice strains also resistant to the Liberty herbicide - LL62 - (for which it has applied for import approval in the EU), and LL06.
The European Commission takes action
Five days after the contamination was revealed, the European Commission put in place emergency legal measures to deal with the incident. All long grain rice imported from the US had to have a certificate stating that it was free of LLRICE601 before it could be marketed in the EU. Furthermore, member states were also required to take action in relation to products already on the market, such as rice imported into the EU before the contamination came to light, in order to "verify the absence of genetically modified rice 'LL RICE 601' ". This is where Friends of the Earth believes the FSA failed to act, and it forms the central issue for the judicial review.
Following an incident in Rotterdam, where a shipment of long grain rice was tested positive for LLRICE601 by Dutch authorities after holding a certificate saying it was GM-free, the EC tightened up the emergency legislation to require counter testing of all US long grain rice by EU member states at the port of entry. The discrepancy over testing resulted from a more sensitive test being used in Europe than in the US. These emergency measures are still in place .
Extent of contamination
Illegal contamination of long grain rice has been found across Europe and worldwide. Friends of the Earth commissioned testing of rice on supermarket shelves and found positive products in Morrisons and Somerfield. Further testing by supermarkets has confirmed positive samples in Sainsbury's, Tesco and Asda and Marks & Spencer in Ireland.
According to the rice industry, around 50% of long grain rice imported into the EU is likely to have been contaminated at low levels. In Europe, 17 countries have reported contamination. And testing by Friends of the Earth in West Africa found contaminated rice in food aid and commercial rice supplies in Sierra Leone and Ghana.
Why is Friends of the Earth legally challenging the FSA?
The FSA is responsible for dealing with this contamination incident in the UK, but it has failed to make sure consumers in the UK are not exposed to illegal GM rice. The FSA has focused on preventing further contaminated rice entering the UK ? for example by commissioning testing of long grain rice held at rice mills, but has ignored contaminated rice already on the market. This includes rice on sale in shops, and used by commercial and public sector caterers (eg the NHS and school meals). An internal meeting note reveals that this decision was taken shortly after a meeting with the rice industry "It was decided not to sample from supermarket shelves because of the massive resource implications in tracing all contaminated end products". The European Commission confirmed that "intensive and targeted controls on products, which are already on the market, are absolutely necessary".
The FSA has attempted to wash its hands of any responsibility for enforcement by stating that local food authorities are responsible for enforcement of GM legislation. Local authorities clearly look to the FSA for guidance and many of them have stated that they have not carried out any testing in their areas specifically because the FSA had not instructed them to do so. One of the key ways the FSA communicates with local authorities is by issuing food alerts. The FSA has not issued any food alerts in this case - an action which is likely to have prompted local authorities to take enforcement action, such as testing local rice samples.
During discussions with the food industry, the FSA told the Food and Drink Federation and the British Retail Consortium that it did not expect them to test products or withdraw them from sale. The FSA later amended its advice, but only after Friends of the Earth threatened legal proceedings.
Not given all clear on safety
The FSA also put out very bold statements about the safety of LLRICE601 early on in the incident - claiming in a press release that the presence of low levels of GM rice was "not a health concern"  and advising consumers to carry on eating US long grain rice. It later transpired that this was based on conversations with two members of the Advisory Committee (ACNFP) who had seen only a limited amount of safety data. Two weeks later, the European Food Safety Authority put out a much more cautious statement that there is "insufficient data to provide a full risk assessment in accordance with EFSA's GM guidance", but on the basis of available data, it is "not likely to pose an imminent safety concern to humans or animals" .
Impact on rice industry
This incident has had a devastating impact on the rice industry. Rice 'futures' prices plummeted $150 million - the sharpest one-day decline in years. Experts have predicted that US rice exports may decline by as much as16% in 2006/2007. Several multi-million dollar lawsuits and several individual lawsuits have been filed against Bayer by US farmers who have suffered severe financial losses. Rice millers, traders and retailers around the globe are facing significant costs, including testing and recall costs, cancelled orders, import bans, brand damage and consumer distrust. However, 41 of the world's biggest rice exporters, processors and retailers have issued written commitments to stay GM free .
Who is liable?
Neither the US Government, nor Bayer CropScience, can explain how this illegal GM rice got into the food chain and an investigation by US authorities is still underway. Meanwhile, Bayer's immediate response to the incident was to apply for the GM rice to be legalised in the US (or 'deregulated'), in an attempt to limit liability. Although the USDA approved the deregulation on 24 November, the rice is still illegal in Europe.
This incident highlights the urgent need for legislation to make biotech companies liable for damage caused by their products. It is unacceptable that farmers have to resort to the courts to seek compensation from Bayer, and that food companies, farmers and taxpayers end up paying for the biotech industry?s mistakes. If companies wish to experiment with, and seek commercialisation for, GM crops and food, they must accept full liability for any damage their products cause, both economic damage, and any harm caused to the environment or health.
 For Friends of the Earth's witness statements and skeleton legal arguments, contact the press office
 Amended Emergency Decision 2006/754/EC on emergency measures regarding the non-authorised genetically modified organism - LL RICE 601- in rice products: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/oj/2006/l_306/l_30620061107en00170020.pdf
GMO’s and the Environmental Liability Directive: the case for special treatment - February 2007 - Download here as a pdf file (340kb)
New Government proposals fail to protect local nature sites from genetic and toxic polluters - GeneWatch UK Press Release - 24th January 2007
Today, GeneWatch UK is publishing a list of the English Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in each parliamentary constituency that will not be given protection under the Government’s plans to implement new EU legislation. The new rules, required under the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD), provide a minimum standard of protection by holding companies liable for polluting the environment.
Each Member State can supplement the ELD to protect species and habitats in their country. The Government is currently running a consultation, until the 16th February, on the level of environmental protection it intends to introduce. The EU’s deadline for introducing the obligatory ELD framework is April 2007.
The ELD covers environmental harm that may arise from certain hazardous activities including the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), waste disposal and the discharge of pollutants to water. The Government’s plans for England exclude most wildlife species recognised as requiring protection, 375 in total, and over 3,000 SSSIs.
In England, 391 constituencies have at least one SSSI that will not be covered under the Government’s proposals. Penrith and the Border constituency tops the list with 86, Skipton and Ripon constituency comes second with 63, and Leominster is third with 62.
The intention of the ELD is to introduce the ‘polluter pays’ principle. The thinking behind this principle is; by making businesses financially and legally accountable for any environmental damage they cause, they will be more cautious about what they do. It should prevent environmental harm and, if that does not work, the costs of putting things right should be borne by those causing the damage.
The proposed legislation has two loopholes which could enable companies to avoid financial liability for damaging the environment. The ‘permit defence’ would allow companies to avoid liability if they had been granted a licence for what turned out to be damaging activity, and the ‘state of the art defence’ excuses pollution if scientific knowledge at the time did not predict the potential harm. This may lead to inadequate research into side-effects.
David Drew MP is working with Dr. Sue Mayer from GeneWatch to raise awareness amongst MPs of the potential harm to habitats and species within each of their constituencies. David said.
"This is a great opportunity for the Government to introduce rules that will protect our most precious local nature sites and all of our native species. I will continue to fight for all 22 SSSIs in my constituency to be given protection under the ELD. I hope that this campaign will be effective in raising awareness amongst my colleagues and the wider public, and will encourage the Government to introduce strict-based liability for any environmental damage."
"This should be a big opportunity to protect the environment. The Government does not even want business to pay if they harm our most precious wildlife habitats and species. This is a license to pollute with immunity, not the polluter pays principle in action," said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK’s Director.
"If GMOs cause damage to our environment, the taxpayer should not have to pick up the bill", said Dr Mayer. "I hope MPs will do their bit to get protection for their local wildlife sites and speak up against Government plans to allow loopholes for polluters".
For further information contact Sue Mayer (office) 01298 871898 (mobile) 07930 308807 or Laurie Howard 0207 219 1653.
Notes to editors
1 The list of sites in each English constituency can be accessed at:
2 - http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/ExcludedSSSInamebyconsituency.xls
The Environmental Liability Directive was agreed in April 2004 and has to be implemented by April 2007.
The consultation is available on line at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/env-liability
Briefings and information about environmental liability can be found at: http://www.genewatch.org/sub.shtml?als[cid]=530853
375 UK Biodiversity Action Plan species (79% of species covered by UK BAP action plans) will not be covered if the Government plans go ahead. In Scotland, 233 of the 278 UK BAP species found there would be excluded. Notable species excluded are: the water vole, the red squirrel, and the brown hare ; the cirl bunting, corn bunting, tree sparrow, bullfinch, the black grouse; and many butterflies and moths.
A full list is available at:
GeneWatch UK, The Mill House, Manchester Road, Tideswell, Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 8LN - Tel: 01298 871898 - Fax: 01298 872531
Web site: www.genewatch.org
Off the hook
New environmental laws bring in the notion that the polluter should pay, so why is the UK choosing the weakest option?
Sue Mayer - The Guardian, January 10 2007 - http://society.guardian.co.uk/societyguardian/story/0,,1986173,00.html
Nature conservation in Britain has long been based on the protection of key sites and species - sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), for example, are identified for their biological or geological importance. Castleton in Derbyshire's Peak District, Wychwood Forest in Oxfordshire and Hampstead Heath Woods in north London are just some of the 4,000 designated areas. But while they are considered to be of great importance - covering almost 7% of Britain - around 40% are by the government's own estimation in a lamentable condition.
The UK also boasts a biodiversity action plan created specifically to protect and improve the status of species and habitats of conservation concern. But for the 391 species for which action plans have been developed, the costs are estimated at £21.8m a year - and there is little money. Now, the environmental liability directive has given the UK a further opportunity to greatly enhance conservation. But rather than seizing the chance to improve environmental protection, the UK is choosing to take the weakest option.
This piece of legislation, which was hard fought for in Europe, is due to enter British law this year and is revolutionary in that it introduces the "polluter pays" principle. The thinking behind it is that by making businesses accountable for any environmental damage they cause, they will be more cautious about what they do. In theory, it will prevent environmental harm and remove from society the burden of costs of putting things right.
The European directive was always seen as a base, not a ceiling, for countries' legislation and governments can choose what teeth they give to the legislation they must introduce. But consultation documents put out by the government reveal that its policy is "not to go beyond the minimum requirements unless there are exceptional circumstances justified by a cost benefit analysis and following extensive stakeholder engagement".
The RSPB, one of the only groups campaigning on the issue, has pointed out that the government's own analysis shows the economic benefits to the Treasury of strengthening the directive.
The potential legislation is wide-ranging, but the government is choosing at every point to do as little as possible. The directive provides for "strict" liability for certain potentially hazardous activities. This includes the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs); waste management; discharge of pollutants into the air or water; and the production and use of dangerous chemicals such as pesticides. Strict liability means that the business undertaking the activity should not have to be shown to be at fault or negligent. Having gained in terms of profits, it should contribute to remediation of any damage that may arise.
The government, however, proposes allowing a "permit" defence to be used to avoid costs. This means that if an activity was given an official licence, payment for damage would not be required.
State of the art
Another defence the government proposes allowing is "state of the art": if the activity was not considered harmful according to the scientific and technical knowledge available at the time it took place, costs should not be payable. This is dangerous because it could encourage a situation where it is better not to know and so restrict scientific research into environmental effect.
Together, the state of the art and permit defences effectively make the liability regime fault based. It will only be necessary for businesses to argue that harm was not predicted, and that they have not been at fault or negligent, to avoid any economic liability.
The Welsh assembly, for GMOs only, has considered the effect of the permit defence and proposes not to allow it. The Welsh have understood that knowledge and experience of GMOs is limited, organisms are living and any adverse environmental impacts may be serious. Because the public there remains sceptical about the benefits of GMOs, they are unlikely to feel it is fair that the taxpayer pays to put any problems right.
Another cause for concern is that under the government's proposals, the directive will include only a limited amount of the environment. All biodiversity with European protection under the habitats and birds directives must be included in the liability directive and it states that countries can go further - but Britain does not intend to do this. This means that a quarter, in terms of land area, of SSSIs will be excluded. The water vole, red squirrel, brown hare and tree sparrow are among the 70% of our biodiversity action plan species that will also be excluded.
Nor is the government choosing to make the directive improve the ecological quality of all our rivers and lakes. Liability rules are to be restricted to larger lakes and rivers: streams and ponds are to be excluded. Land damage is also part of the environmental liability directive, but only if any harm that arises poses a risk to human health. The government does not want to extend this to environmental risks.
The real driving force behind the government's approach became clear last year when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), considered strengthening the directive. In particular, it wanted strict liability to apply. The directive provides for fault-based liability for any activity (such as fisheries) that might harm biodiversity, not just those activities listed as potentially dangerous. Defra wanted to upgrade this so that strict liability would apply to all activities. Even this small step caused such outrage at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) that a wholesale reassessment was undertaken in the interests of business and the implementation process delayed by more than nine months.
So the government, led by the DTI, is letting an important environmental principle drop by the wayside despite the polluter pays being one of the 10 guiding principles in its 2002 sustainable development strategy. Instead of fisheries, biotechnology, waste and chemical industries taking responsibility for their environmental impact, every opportunity is being taken to let them off the hook. While the public is being told that assessments into GM crops, pesticides and waste disposal are so thorough that their use poses no risk to the environment, this confidence evaporates when it brings tangible corporate financial accountability in terms of environmental liability.
It seems polluters don't have to worry about damaging our most precious wildlife species and sites, and the supposed polluter pays principle is being made so conditional as to be meaningless.
Sue Mayer is director of GeneWatch UK
Read the consultation at http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/env%2Dliability