Fury over GM crops green light

THE Government was accused last night of "passing the buck" by Essex anti-GM campaigners after it announced that the controversial crops could get the go-ahead in Britain despite public opposition.

THE Government was accused last night of "passing the buck" by Essex anti-GM campaigners after it announced that the controversial crops could get the go-ahead in Britain despite public opposition.

National environmental groups said they believed ministers should reject GM crop licences in Britain, if the public says it does not want the crops in a debate which starts next month.

Their remarks follow comments by Environment Minister Michael Meacher in which he said refusing a licence for GM crops might not be an option under European Union legislation.

Leader of the Colchester GM Campaign, Andy Abbot, said: "It is a very surprising position for the Government to take on the European stage."

Mr Abbot, was cleared twice of trashing experimental crops after they were damaged by protestors at a trial site in Wivenhoe.

"I think they are passing the buck. It seems very strange that Britain, which has been one of the strongest advocates of GM crops within Europe, should turn around and blame Europe for it.

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"A number of European Union countries have established themselves as completely GM free."

Communities in Essex rose up against the staging of GM trials in the county in recent years, with many residents voting against them in parish council referenda held in Wivenhoe and Weeley.

But the experiments went ahead despite the opposition voiced, with Wivenhoe hosting three year's worth of GM forage maize trials, which ended last year.

Anti-GM activists entered the farm concerned twice and damaged crops in protest at the trials.

Sue Paris, for Weeley Against Genetic Exploitation (WAGE) said: "At least 85 per cent who responded to surveys don't want them. On Saturday we are conducting a survey at Clacton market. We are trying to be as fair as possible in finding out what Joe Public wants."

She added she hoped that the whole of Tendring could be designated a GM-free area if enough pressure was put on decision makers.

Mr Meacher said yesterday in radio interview: "We have to act in accordance with the law. And the law at the present moment is set down in the EU directive, and the key and sole criteria for taking action in regard to GM crops is: are they a harm, a risk to health or the environment?"

But Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for North Essex, said he did not believe Europe should have the final say.

"This is one of the thousands of issues Europe seems to be able to overrule public opinion about," said Mr Jenkin, whose constituency includes Wivenhoe.

"We couldn't stop live animal exports from Brightlingsea because of Europe.

"GM is an issue the public has a right to be consulted about. The European Union is not a democracy – it is a bureaucracy. Ignoring democracies is very dangerous."

The public debate on GM crops is to be held in the form of meetings across the country, and will get under way on June 3. The results of the first GM crop trials are set to be ready by September.

Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Peter Riley called on the Government to guarantee before the debate begins that if the public said it does not want GM crops, it would not give them the commercial go-ahead.

"Without that guarantee, there seems little point in debating the issue," he said.

Greenpeace called on the Government to challenge existing laws.

Spokesman Ben Stewart said: "By suggesting it is EU law that is stopping them from banning GM crops, the Government has found a very handy scapegoat."

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, confirmed that an EU directive meant that a government had to show evidence that GM crops could be damaging to the environment or human health in order to reject a licence application.

He said: "What is going to happen is that after all the evidence is in, and after ministers have seen all the evidence from the trials, and they have listened to the public debate and what the public have had to say in the debate, they will then press ahead with the decision making.

"They have to take into account all the information.

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