The Executive is repeatedly delaying a crucial consultation on the threat of GM crops and has now announced that it will not take place until next summer, after the next election. Ministers were due to issue proposals on the “co-existence” of GM crops in summer 2005, and Greens argue that the latest delay indicates Labour and LibDems’ fear of drawing attention to their support for GM crops. (1)
The delay was revealed after Eleanor Scott, Green MSP for Highlands & Islands, quizzed deputy environment minister Rhona Brankin to seek assurances that the future of all Scottish farmers will be protected by not allowing routine contamination of farms, foods and food products with GM material.
Dr Scott said, “This delay proves the Labour and LibDem Executive is simply trying to dodge the issue because they know that their support for GM is massively unpopular with the public, and potentially disastrous for consumers, farmers and the environment. A similar consultation has been completed south of the border – election or no election, there are no excuses for not pressing ahead with it in Scotland.”
Mark Ruskell MSP, Green speaker on environment, has proposed a bill at Holyrood to make GM companies strictly liable for any economic damage as a result of contamination caused by GM crop trials and commercialisation.
Dr Scott added, “Consumers don’t want GM, and they don’t want foods contaminated with GM – just look at how the organic food sector is thriving. Farmers, organic and conventional, have enough pressures without having to deal with the risk of contamination.
“GM contamination has cost conventional and organic farmers in North America dear – we must not make the same mistakes in Scotland. All economic liability must fall onto the GM companies, who must carry the can for contamination.”
GM crops are not currently grown commercially in the UK, and in 2004 the Executive pushed through a “voluntary ban” on GM crops in Scotland, a move Greens describe as completely ineffective. The proposals for measures suggested by DEFRA for England have been found by experts on EU law to be seriously flawed, and if implemented, will allow widespread GM contamination of UK food and farming.
5. Eleanor Scott (Highlands and Islands) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it shares the Prime Minister’s reported view that the future of agriculture for this country is more likely to be in organic niche farming than in extensive tracts of genetically modified crops. (S2O-11136)
The Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Rhona Brankin): A key factor in determining which forms of agricultural production will be most successful in Scotland will be the market. “A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture: Next Steps” highlights the importance of responding to market demand. At present, there is strong demand for organic produce but no market advantage in growing genetically modified crops in Scotland.
Eleanor Scott: Will the minister confirm whether she is aware of the legal opinion that the Soil Association and others have obtained that highlights areas of the consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on GM co-existence that appear to be at odds with European Union law? Will she confirm that she will give her opinion on those specific concerns before publication of the consultation by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department? Furthermore, will she confirm that she will take steps to ensure that the future of all Scottish farmers is protected by not allowing routine contamination of Scottish farms, foods and food products with GM material?
Rhona Brankin: I confirm that we have received a copy of the legal advice from Friends of the Earth Scotland, the Soil Association and GM Freeze. I will reply to those organisations shortly. We will put the issue of GM co-existence out to consultation next summer. It is an important issue, but it would be premature to consult at the moment as we are awaiting critical EU-wide decisions on the threshold for GM presence in organic products. When we first announced that we would consult stakeholders on co-existence measures, in 2004, it was feasible that GM crops that might be suited to Scotland would be available in the next few years. That is no longer the case.
In answer to Eleanor Scott’s first question, I say that, done well, organic farming can have important biodiversity, landscape and pollution-control benefits, as my colleague, Tony Blair, has said.