BAN WOULD FALL FOUL OF EUROPE'S FREE TRADE LAWS
By David Brown
Britain is powerless to impose a moratorium on growing
genetically modified crops even if it wanted to because it would
be over-ruled by the European Union.
The Ministry of Agriculture said last night: "There is no legal
basis for such a move under European Union Single Market
The Government could face heavy fines in the European Court
if ministers yielded to increasing pressure from the
Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and environmental and food
campaign groups and tried to impose controls which amounted
to a restriction of trade, farming industry leaders warned.
The threat of court action would come from the EU
Commission, farming organisations, individual farmers or
traders. France is already facing legal action from the
commission for trying to block genetic crops.
The National Farmers' Union of England and Wales said that its
own legal advice supported the Government stance. Ian
Gardiner, policy director of the NFU, said: "The British
Government cannot impose a moratorium. This is a decision
that is made at European level."
The legal position means that the Government, which has
already rejected the idea of a moratorium, would have to enlist
the support of most other EU countries to change existing
European regulations on genetically modified organisms if it
changed its mind. Past experience in Brussels has shown that
this is a time-consuming and difficult procedure.
There is also no appetite for a major re-think on GMOs as
agriculture and finance ministers are set to embark on key
negotiations to reform the Common Agricultural Policy. GMOs
are not on the agenda.
Blocking GMOs would also fall foul of World Trade
Organisation rules on free trade in agricultural and food
products. Such a move could lead to a trade war with America
which argues that the foods should be traded openly because
there is no scientific evidence that they are harmful.
American negotiators, who have already waged a long campaign
against the EU over its ban on beef produced with the use of
hormones, have only grudgingly accepted that GM soya or
other products need to be labelled.
The EU is slowly accepting that, under World Trade
Organisation rules, it cannot ban the hormone-aided meat, and
is considering a compromise to allow American beef imports
that are properly labelled.
Farmers in Britain are relieved that they cannot be barred
unilaterally from growing GM crops. Already reeling from what
the Government has acknowledged as the worst collapse in
incomes for nearly 30 years, they face the threat from the
Department of the Environment of a tax on the pesticides they
Any unilateral ban on GM crops - which can be bred to be
naturally resistant to pests without using chemical sprays -
would make their food even more uncompetitive against that
produced in countries where the GM technology has been
Melvyn Askew, head of alternative crops and technology at the
Central Science Laboratory in York said last night that he
believed it would be two years before the first commercial GM
crops were planted in Britain. Mr Askew is head of IENICA -
an EU funded project to explore alternative crops.
So far, hundreds of small test plots of GM crops have been
grown in Britain. The first field-size trial crops of oilseed rape,
sugar beet and maize for cattle food, are to be planted this
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