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UK moves to protect organic farmers from GM crops

(Friday, Feb. 14, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- John Mason, Financial Times, 02/12/03: New laws could be passed to help organic farmers recover losses caused by any commercialisation of genetically-modified crops, Michael Meacher said yesterday.

Current laws were inadequate to help such farmers whose businesses might suffer because of cross-pollination from GM crops grown on neighbouring farms, the environment minister said.

Proposed European liability laws might not offer protection either. "We want to look at whether we need domestic liability legislation," Mr Meacher said, insisting the government remained committed to strengthening the organic sector.

The move would address a central issue surrounding how modified and non-modified plants can co-exist if the government approves the commercial cultivation of GM crops later this year.

Scientists agree that "geneflow" from GM to non-GM plants would be inevitable but can be minimised by adequate separation distances between neighbouring crops.

But organic farmers argue cross-pollination will build up over time, causing them to lose their GM-free status and possibly go out of business.

The liability issue is being examined by the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, the official watchdog, which is expected to make recommendations to government later this year.

Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, the organic farming body, welcomed the move.

"The current law will not provide any protection at all for non-GM farmers who lose income because of GM contamination. There are hundreds of organic farmers in the US and Canada who have lost money - we don't want that happening here," he said.

However, any move to strengthen the liability laws will be opposed by the biotechnology industry, which could lose financially if successful claims were brought.

Croplife International, the plant science industry body, said existing European Union laws were sufficient. "We don't feel a need for any change to address a specific technology," it said.

At another GM conference organised by the Royal Society, the scientific academy, ecologists argued GM crops posed less of a threat to the environment than some exotic plants commonly sold in garden centres.