|February 26, 2004,
Soil Association: The UK government has decided
that compensation for damage caused by GM crops should
be funded by the GM industry, according to leaked minutes
seen by the Soil Association.
The minutes reveal that Government proposal SCI(BIO)
(04)03, whereby compensation for damage caused by GM
crops “would be funded by the GM industry,”
was agreed by the Cabinet’s GM Committee earlier
Peter Melchett the Soil Association’s Policy
Director said: “We have always said that the GM
companies should be held responsible for any economic
losses suffered by non-GM farmers and we welcome this
proposal. However, the new laws must be in place before
the Government considers any applications to grow GM
crops in the UK, including GM maize. Otherwise, the
Government shows it may be willing to risk damaging
the vast majority of farmers, to placate the GM companies.”
The Soil Association, the UK’s main certifier
and promoter of organic food and farming, has consistently
argued that a clear law of liability is needed to protect
all non-GM farmers and to avoid the economic losses
farmers have suffered in the United States and Canada
as a result of GM contamination.
Under existing law, it is clear that a non-GM farmer
who loses markets and income because of GM contamination
of their crop would not be able to sue anyone to recover
the loss. Worse, farmers could find themselves being
sued by food companies or supermarkets who have to withdraw
food because it is found to contain GM contamination.
No insurance company is prepared to insure against GM
Making GM consent holders liable would avoid pitting
GM and non-GM farmers against each other. It also means
that the specific source of GM contamination would not
have to be identified – this would be difficult
as GMOs could come from any number of farms in a region,
or from contaminated seed or farm machinery, or from
many other sources. It would only be necessary to identify
the GM variety which could be easily traced back to
the consent holder. The Cabinet’s GM Committee
has said “the difficulty of proving that a particular
farmer was to blame for GM contamination should not
be underestimated”. Currently, unless the precise
source of contamination can be conclusively proved,
legal action cannot even start.
Some other EU countries are already taking steps to
set up GM liability and compensation schemes. In Denmark,
the Government will help with a compensation fund -
an option ruled out by the Cabinet’s GM Committee.
All experts, including the Government’s own Science
Review Panel, consider the contamination of non-GM crops
to be inevitable if GM crops are widely grown, and the
need for legal action by non-GM farmers could be very
great. Economic damage from GMOs is not covered by the
forthcoming EU Directive on environmental liability.
By contrast, companies who buy agricultural products
which are affected by GM contamination will almost always
have any losses met by the seller under contract law.
The European Commission has said that national governments
must sort out rules for coexistence between organic
and GM, and decide who will be liable for economic losses
caused by GM crops. The UK Government has repeatedly
promised to protect organic farmers from GM contamination.
The Soil Association is supporting a Bill designed
to protect Scottish farmers, introduced in the Scottish
Parliament by Scottish MSP Mark Ruskell. Certified organic
farming accounts for about 8% of Scottish farmland,
double that of the average in the UK. The Scottish Executive
has set a target to double the area of organic farming
in the most productive land areas by 2007.
The Soil Association’s full response to Mark
Ruskell’s consultation is available from www.soilassociation.org