GM Free Cymru

Welsh Government Confirms GM-free Policy

Press Release 22 January 2013

The Welsh Government has recently confirmed its policy of working to maintain a GM-free status for Wales. Without any great fanfares, the Welsh Government has twice given strong signals over the past three weeks that it will maintain "the most precautionary and restrictive approach possible, consistent with UK and EU law." This approach is broadly supported by the people of Wales, and there also appears to be solid cross-party support for the position in the Welsh Assembly. Environment Minister John Griffiths confirmed his commitment to a GM-free Wales in Oral Questions in the Assembly on 16th January, and in a letter sent to GM-Free Cymru on behalf of the Minister on 9th January this was confirmed, with additional policy detail.

Although Wales cannot unilaterally depart from the UK policy on GM matters, the Welsh Government has a policy very similar to that of Scotland, involving the use of statutory instruments to ensure that any plantings of GM crops -- while technically legal -- actually become impossible. The Co-existence Regulations, currently in the pipeline, place such onerous burdens on any farmer wishing to plant GM crops that he would almost certainly choose not to bother! Recently the Scottish Government stated that current GMO policy was based on: • The precautionary principle – insufficient evidence has been presented that GM crops are safe • The preventative principle – the cultivation of GM crops could tarnish Scotland's natural environment and damage wider aspects of the Scottish economy such as tourism and the production of high quality, natural food • The democratic principle – science-based decision making cannot replace the will of the people. There is no evidence of a demand for GM products by Scottish consumers

Speaking for GM-Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "It's very gratifying that the Welsh and Scottish Governments are standing together here, accepting the will of the people and resisting the ill-founded and unscientific stance on GMOs adopted by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson in Westminster. Mr Paterson is completely out of touch with public opinion, and he does not appear to know what he is talking about when it comes to GM crops and foods. He represents the interests of the biotechnology corporations and the large-scale farmers of England, and he appears to know nothing of the recent scientific evidence of real harm associated with the planting, harvesting and consumption of GM crops."

Both Wales and the Highlands and Islands Region in Scotland are members of the European Network of GMO-free regions. At a European level, there is now great pressure on the EC to bring in new rules which will allow all of these 55 regions across the continent to define themselves in a legally defensible way as being GMO-free, citing socio-economic and scientific grounds as well as the need to protect sensitive designated landscapes including National Parks. Again, responding to public pressure, the European Parliament is strongly supportive of this move to ban GMOs entirely from large swathes of Europe; and it is quite possible that 2013 will see new regulations being brought in to allow this to happen.



Dr Brian John GM-Free Cymru 22 January 2013

Oral Questions in the Welsh Assembly, 16th January 2013:

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Would you agree that the reputation of Wales as a green, clean country that produces high-quality food in a sustainable way is of great benefit to the Welsh economy, and that the fact that Wales is a GM-free country is an important element of that image?

The Record John Griffiths: I very much agree with those comments. As I said in my initial answer, we have an approach that we have established over a period of time that is about necessary caution and restriction. It is very much about preserving our advantages in terms of our rural economy, our food, and our drink, which markets Wales as a top-quality country that produces top-quality food in which consumers can have the highest degree of confidence.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Thank you for that response. I think it was last week that Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change in Scotland, made a clear statement in the Scottish Parliament that the Scottish Government is intent on safeguarding the integrity of the food and drink sector in Scotland by continuing to reject the production of GM crops there. He said that there was no evidence of an effort by retailers, or demand from customers, for such produce. Would you be willing to make a similar statement in the Chamber today?

The Record John Griffiths: I would be willing to assure Members, and those outside the Chamber, that the Welsh Government's policy on GM crops remains unchanged. It is the precautionary and restrictive approach that we have set out over a period of time.

This is a recent letter (9th January 2013) from Martin Williams of the Welsh Government's Natural Environment and Agriculture Team, representing the views of the Minister John Griffiths.

Our ref AT/JG/07660/12

Brian John

Dear Brian,

Thank you very much for your emails of 11 December 2012 to the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development about the views Owen Paterson expressed in the media about GM crops and foods. As an official with responsibility for GM policy in Wales I have been asked to reply.

It is of course disappointing that Mr Paterson in his capacity as the Secretary of State for Defra did not qualify his comments in any way to recognise the fact GM policy is a devolved matter and that his comments should therefore only be taken in relation to England. The Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development is aware of Mr Paterson's comments and continues to be of the view that in Wales we continue to take a restrictive and precautionary approach to GM crops that is consistent with UK and EU law. This approach is essential if we are to we continue to protect our investment in clean, sustainable agriculture and our unique environment and landscape.

I tend to agree that his sweeping statements and generalisations fail to recognise a number of the potential problems with GM crops. As you point out these include the problems associated with the farm scale evaluations, the increasing problems with weed resistance and associated increases in pesticide use which can be scientifically proven effects of the introduction of GM crops. Similarly I think it is unfortunate that he has ignored the Organic sector as a source of GM free produce and that his comments seem to suggest that scientific case for GM is already made when many credible people and scientists believe there is still uncertainty. Indeed your petitions to the European Parliament are testimony to that in questioning the scientific objectivity of EFSA who are of course key to the approval of GMOs and who assessed the recent Seralini report. I am not sighted on the Member States that EFSA involved in the assessment of the Seralini report and can assure you that Wales was not consulted. However, I am aware that at their 11 October 2012 meeting ACRE agreed with EFSA's views on this study and commented that it was important for all researchers to provide full datasets. I am not aware that they were formally involved in any assessment of the report by EFSA and will try and clarify with the ACRE Secretariat.

One of the more positive things I did take from Mr Paterson's comments was that he was unwittingly making a very strong case for the labelling of produce from animals that have been fed GM feed. I understand recent work by the FSA concluded that the public continue to want food containing animal products derived from GM feed to be labelled. We believe the public must be able to access clear, trusted and verifiable information on genetically modified organisms and this kind of positive approach to labelling is strongly supported by the Environment and Sustainable Development Minister.

We and the Scottish Government continue to press the Defra Ministers to take a broader and more holistic approach to the evaluation of GMOs and that the EU regulatory regime should recognise this and considers not only human health and environmental issues, but also looks at wider socio-economic issues as part of the approval process. Defra have been resistant to such suggestions to date.

In terms of coexistence I agree it will be essential to introduce these controls in advance of any GM crop commercialisation in the UK. We are currently developing a statutory public register for any GM crops people would propose to grow in Wales and are hoping to consult on our proposals in the coming months. This will be an important first step in developing our coexistence proposals to allow farmers to make a practical choice between conventional, organic and GM crop production, in compliance with EU and UK law.

Yours Sincerely Martin Williams Head of Natural Environment and Agriculture Team