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FoE EWNI press release

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Setback for Biotech Industry
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 1pm Thursday 1 April 1999    

Setback for Biotech Industry

The Government has been forced to admit that its attempt to speed up the
commercial development of genetically modified (GM) seed is illegal. The
humiliating u-turn follows yesterday's legal challenge by Friends of the
Earth and an all-party group of MPs - Norman Baker MP (Lib Dem, Lewes),
John Randall (Con, Uxbridge) and Alan Simpson (Lab, Nottingham South).

The Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) planned to short-circuit a statutory
seed approval system, taking at least two years off the time needed to
bring GM crops to the marketplace [1]. MAFF lawyers have now written to FOE
(copy available) conceding that their non- statutory provisional seed
“certification” scheme is illegal. MAFF will now need new legislation -
which it hopes will be in place by the end of July - to legally allow GM
seed commercialisation to be fast-tracked [2]. However, FOE believes that
any attempts to speed up certification could be against European law.

Charles Secrett, Director of Friends of the Earth said: 
    “We are delighted that the Government has caved in rather than confront
us in court. But MAFF's illegal plot to speed up the commercial development
of GM crops shows just how far some elements of Government will go to help
the big biotech firms succeed in covering the British countryside in GM

Norman Baker MP said:
    "It is a sad state of affairs when it requires a High Court action by
Friends of the Earth and MPs of all parties to force the Government to obey
the law. It's time the Government started pressing the GM brake instead of
pushing the accelerator."

John Randall MP said:
    "I am delighted that our action has got a positive response from the
Government but I feel appalled that they have only taken action under
extreme pressure. Perhaps they'll think again before they bypass

Alan Simpson MP, who possibly had the most at stake in taking his own
Government to court, said:
“It's Parliament's duty to protect the public rather than offer lines of
preference for private corporations. This is a terrific victory in what is
still likely to be a long 

war for a safe environment.”


[1]    Before seeds can be marketed, their variety must first be entered on
the National List (which shows that the plant variety is distinct, stable,
uniform and has value for cultivation and use). When this is complete it
then has to be certified - which takes two to three years - involving
various tests including purity and freedom from disease. The legal
challenge was mounted because the Government was proposing to allow
certification of GM seeds to take place before National Listing and without
Parliamentary approval.

[2] In its letter, MAFF says “we will be coming forward...quickly with
specific proposals to amend this legislation to deal with the points you
have the light of this reply we would invite you to agree to a
stay of your application [for a judicial review] pending the revision of
the legislation.”

Gill Lacroix
Friends of the Earth Europe
Biotechnology Programme
"To say that this is not a highly political area seems to me extraordinary.
 To claim that GM products 'pose no risks' is absurd.  We know that there
are risks involved.  And if this was not a political issue, Monsanto and
others would not spend time and money cosying up to governments" (speech,
18.03.99 by David Bowe, MEP, rapporteur for the revision of Directive
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