GENTECH archive


Sunday menu on Genetic manipulation - 4 items from INDEPENDENT

One brit newspaper has several items which I'm combining. It's amazing
when you compare such publication with the almost complete silence on the
subject in the U$A. But they have more important fish to fry, don't they?

But it's just possible that the brit's discussion may be helpful to
non-brits. Thepossibility of GM problems is not limited by national

Sunday Independent (London) Feb 28, 1999

Third World rejects GM

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent

The world's hungriest nations have resolved to oppose genetically modified
foods. A senior Ethiopian government official last night told the
Independent on Sunday they were "absolutely united" in resisting US plans
to "decide what we eat".

Dr Tewolde Gebre Egziabher was speaking after last week's talks collapsed
in Cartagena, Colombia, following the United States' accusation that the
developing countries were endangering free trade. An international treaty
to regulate trade in GM produce had been discussed by 132 nations.

The revolt will strike a chord in the West, with many associating the 1980
Ethiopia famines - which sparked Live Aid - with severe food shortages.
Some biotechnology firms have consistently argued that GM crops' increased
resistance to parasites and disease makes them suitable for the Third

Dr Egziabher, the senior Third World negotiator at the talks, said Third
World resistance to the imposition of GM crops was increasing. Last week
the government of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil, the country's second
largest soya-producing region, said it would ban the planting of GM beans
produced by the US giant, Monsanto. And India's Supreme Court stopped
trials of GM cotton.

The Third World's tough stance undermines the biotech companies'
justification for GM crops - that they will help end world hunger; Dr
Egziabher said that instead they could worsen the plight of the hungry.

The developing countries insisted the US and other food exporters ship GM
foods separately from normal ones, and seek their "prior informed consent"
before exporting. But the US and five other exporting countries -
including Canada, Australia and Argentina - fear Third World countries
would boycott GM produce.


Sunday Independent (London) Feb 28, 1999

GM Foods - The price of disaster will not be paid by those responsible

There is a gaping hole in the law, says Justine Thornton. Farmers, not
seed companies, may be held to blame for any damage

Who takes responsibility if the worst does happen and huge "superweeds"
darken our skyline and our wildlife disappears as a result of GM crops?
The law governing genetically modified organisms avoids this question,
with the result that nothing can be done about the loss of any wildlife
and farmers, rather than the seed companies, may find themselves in the
firing line.

The UK was one of the first countries in the European Community to develop
a legal framework for genetic engineering and laws governing the
deliberate release of genetically modified organisms have been in place
since 1990. Anyone wishing to release GM organisms into the environment,
or market them, must apply to the Government for consent. The application
must be advertised in local newspapers and must include an assessment of
the risks to human health and the environment.

The laws do not, however, go on to consider who will take responsibility
for the consequences of growing the crops. In the absence of any specific
legislation, it is the farmers who plant the crops who may well be liable
for any damage caused to the environment. A farmer could be sued by
neighbouring farmers whose organic crops have been killed by powerful
herbicides sprayed on the genetically modified crops, or by residents
whose gardens have become overrun by "superweeds".

If a farmer is sued, it will not matter how careful he has been in
spraying the herbicide or how many precautions he has taken to contain his
crops. The very fact that the damage has happened will be enough to make
him liable, providing the damage is reasonably foreseeable. He may have to
pay for the loss of earnings suffered by the farmer whose crops were
killed. He may have to pay for the cost to local residents of clearing up
their gardens. What he will not have to pay for is the birds who disappear
because the insects on which they feed have been killed by the herbicides.
As the law stands, no one will be responsible for the loss of birds or any
other wildlife.

It is worrying that our wildlife can disappear and nothing can be done
about it. It raises important public policy issues, as does the question
of whether we want farmers, the seed companies or society to bear the
burden of the developing technology for modifying genes. Such huge issues
should be properly debated in Parliament and reflected in legislation.

There is no sign of this happening and, instead, courts up and down the
country will have to grapple with these questions. Yet the courts
themselves have recognised that they are not the right forum. The House of
Lords made this clear in a recent case on environmental pollution, stating
that ". it is more appropriate for liability in respect of operations of
high risk to be imposed by Parliament than by the courts. The protection
of the environment is now perceived as being of crucial importance to the
future of mankind . given that so much well-informed and carefully
structured legislation is now being put in place for this purpose, there
is less need for the courts to develop a principle to achieve the same end
and indeed it may well be undesirable that they should do so".

The introduction of a legal liability regime will not, however, solve all
the problems. Cleaning up the environment can cost a lot of money which,
at the end of the day, may depend upon the availability of insurance. Over
time the insurance industry may develop new policies which specifically
cover the risks from GM crops. At present, however, most insurance
policies exclude from their coverage any damage to the environment caused
by contamination or pollution unless it arises from a sudden event.
"Superweeds" may be regarded as a form of contamination. In the
circumstances, one way forward could be to follow the approach of
international maritime law to the clean-up of oil spills. The seed
companies would have to pay money into a "compensation fund" before being
allowed to market any genetically modified crops.

* Justine Thornton is a barrister specialising in environmental law at
Simmons & Simmons Solicitors. She is co-author of 'Environmental Law'.

Sunday Independent (London) Feb 28, 1999

GM Foods - Cunningham faces Commons quiz on fiasco over new crops

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent

One of Parliament's most powerful committees is to scrutinise the
Government's policies on genetically modified (GM) foods.

Its members plan to call the cabinet "enforcer" Jack Cunningham to account
for this month's fiasco, when panic-stricken ministers were overwhelmed by
the strength of public outrage, and were forced to go on the defensive,
backing the products.

The urgent inquiry, by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee,
will alarm the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues, who had hoped to
draw a line under the issue after the embarrassment of recent weeks.

Mr Blair, who is deeply committed to the development of GM crops and
foods, has been privately telling MPs that the recent outcry is a "flash
in the pan" and predicting that it would disappear. But the inquiry will
ensure that it will remain a political issue until the committee completes
its report in the spring. The committee, established by the Government
last year to scrutinise environmental policies throughout Whitehall,
starts its inquiry on Tuesday.

Members will finally decide who to call as witnesses on Tuesday, but they
have already discussed calling Dr Cunningham, who chairs a cabinet
committee on biotechnology. He acted as spokesman for the Government
during the recent outcry, and noticeably failed in his attempts to
reassure the public.

The committee, which is to hold a particularly rapid inquiry, will examine
the fiasco, and the general failure to co-ordinate government policy on
the new foods.

One member, Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on GM foods,
said: "Jack Cunningham will be asked to explain the chaos of the last
weeks and will be asked what confidence we can have in his role in
co-ordinating biotechnology issues.

" We want to know who is in control of the policy - and, indeed, whether
the Government is in control at all."


Sunday Independent (London) Feb 28, 1999

GM Foods - Watchdog's silence on the
guilty broke law

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment

The official watchdog on genetically modified crops has broken the law by
refusing to name companies that have flouted safety rules in growing them,
or even to give full details of how often such breaches have taken place,
writes Geoffrey Lean.

The Health and Safety Executive, which inspects trial plantings of the
crops to make sure the rules are being observed, said that it would not
identify the companies because doing so might "unreasonably disadvantage
them". It has now admitted that it acted illegally in trying to keep the
information secret.

The revelation is likely to cause an outcry following the recent
conviction of the controversial US giant Monsanto and Perry Fields Ltd for
breaking the rules at a trial site near Caister, Lincolnshire. Monsanto
was fined #17,000 and Perry Fields #14,000 in the first case of its kind.

The HSE's secrecy undermines constant assurances from ministers about the
strictness and openness of the regulatory authorities on GM crops in

The HSE's refusal came when Friends of the Earth formally asked it, under
the Environmental Information Regulation 1992, to say how often the rules
had been broken and to identify the companies and sites involved. More
than 400 sites across the country have been planted with GM crops on a
trial basis under the regulations, which are designed to stop the genes
contaminating nearby crops.

The HSE refused to say how many breaches had occurred on the grounds that
"provision of this information would require unreasonable diversion of
resources". But it did admit that the rules had been broken at one-tenth
of the 49 sites visited by inspectors between April and September last

The HSE has now admitted that it was illegal to withhold the information.
The agency has apologised to Friends of the Earth and promised to supply