|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 this month.
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 contamination.
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
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
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