Founder member of the European Regions Network on Co-existence in Agriculture, Wales has been the latest to warn the European Commission that such a move could have a disastrous effect on conventional and organic farming.

Welsh Environment Minister Carwyn Jones told the Commission that his country was determined to protect its farming industry, as well as the environment, from GM contamination.

“In Wales we are actively encouraging the development of a sustainable country, which is vitally important for the economic development of our farming and food processing industries,” Mr Jones stated.

He said that the Welsh Assembly had invested a lot of money into developing and marketing green, environmentally friendly produce, such as lamb and cheese, which had been farmed using sustainable technology.

“I am naturally concerned that the commercialisation of GM crops in the UK could undermine Wales’ current achievements and ambitions for our agriculture and food industries,” he continued. “It is imperative that we bring in a co-existence regime for GM crops with, whilst providing consumers and farmers with choice, commands their confidence in terms of consistency, robustness and redress mechanisms.”

However, in spite of this, spokesman for Monsanto Tony Combes told edie that on paper, figures showed that in the UK alone, over two-thirds of farmers were now in favour of growing genetically modified crops, and nearly half of those questioned were unequivocally in favour.

“With over 8 million farmers in 17 countries planting 200 million acres of GM crops, it is not accurate to say that the industry does not support them,” he said.

He cited a recent survey that showed the main food-related concern among the UK population was salt content. Food poisoning, fat, sugar, pesticide use, BSE, and animal welfare all rated as more of a public worry in the poll, and at eleventh place, only 38% of those questioned cited GM as a major concern, with only three other categories being of a lesser concern.

Moreover, Mr Combes said recent figures showed that only 8% of farmers in the UK were now opposed to GMOs.

But in a conflicting survey conducted by Which? late last year, only a quarter of those questioned supported the introduction of GM crops (see related story), with nearly three quarters very concerned about the health implications of eating GM or GM-contaminated food.

European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development in Brussels, Madame Fischer Boel said in response that the EU currently had the strictest GM authorisation process in the world, supporting those wishing to protect specialty foods on a regional basis.

She also added that there was no risk to human health or the environment posed by GM crops, as long as they were used and monitored appropriately.

“Farmers should be given choice in order to reflect and adapt to the needs of the market,” Madame Fischer Boel stated. “The decision on the use of GM crops should be for the farmer, not the authority.”

Acknowledging that co-existence rules were a necessity, she confirmed that the Commission would be reviewing current GMO legislation later in the year.

By Jane Kettle

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