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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Minister to strike a blow against GM-free Wales

Reports in today's papers that the UK Environment Secretary is to abolish the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission is a major blow to Wales' aspiration to remain GM-free. This commission was established by the government to monitor ethical and social issues linked to GM crops. However it is to be disbanded after its members insisted that conventional and organic farmers should be protected from contamination by GM crops - and be compensated if safeguards fail.

The commission has made life difficult for Margaret Beckett because it wants strict rules to protect farmers who do not want to grow GM crops, and restitution if unforeseen environmental damage occurs as a result of GM crops. It demanded wide separation between GM and conventional crops to prevent cross-contamination, which would render conventional crops unsaleable to supermarkets. It also recommended a compensation scheme for conventional and organic farmers, underwritten by the government.

All of this is music to the ears of the majority of Welsh Assembly Members of course, who have voted on a number of occasions to write these very safeguards into WAG policy on GM crops. The proposed abolition of the commission and the reported determination of DEFRA to go ahead with the commercial cultivation of GM crops in the UK could place Wales on a collision course with the UK Government and test the devolution settlement to the full.

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