GM moratorium could be legal

A freeze on GM crops could be perfectly legal, according to a legal opinion obtained by FoE


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A legal opinion obtained by Friends of the Earth and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) by international barrister Phillipe Sands, says that “good arguments can be made to support the view that a moratorium on the commercial growing of GM seeds would not be contrary to EU and WTO law”.

The UK Government has argued that any attempt to put a moratorium on the commercial planting of crops in the UK would be contrary to European and world trade law.

In a letter to FOE, Agriculture Minister Jeff Rooker has argued that “there is no legal power to impose a moratorium on the planting of GM crops, and we have therefore had to take a different approach” (29th October 1998).

In support of his argument Mr Sands quotes:

  Article 100a(4) of the Treaty of Rome, which allows EU Member states to apply national provisions on environmental grounds, if certain conditions are met.

  The WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, which allows Member states to provisionally adopt trade restrictive measures, even if relevant scientific evidence is insufficient for a final decision.

“This opinion shows that the Government can find legal arguments for a moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops,” said FoE Legal Adviser Peter Roderick. “Both European and world trade law contains provisions which allow national Governments to act to protect the environment. Of course we cannot act in an arbitrary way. But the evidence of environmental dangers is already there and the precautionary principle must be applied.”

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