Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Growing GM Crops in Wales

Interesting statement yesterday from Elin Jones, The Assembly Government's Rural Affairs Minister. She has announced tighter rules for the growing of GM crops in Wales. I do not think there are many who will disagree with this. But its not going to satisfy the opponents GM crops, who still want a GM Free Wales.

I recall much heated debate about this issue a few years ago, when Carwyn Jones was the responsible Assembly Minister. Consistently, he told us that he favoured the most restrictive rules possible, with the lawyer's qualification 'within EU and UK law'. But it wasn't good enough for most AMs, and certainly not for groups like Friends of the Earth who wanted an absolute ban. There was overwhelming opposition to the idea of growing GM crops in Wales at all. I was content to go along with this approach - an instinctive fear of the unknown I suppose.

But even as I voted to oppose GM crops, there were several aspects to the debate that raised questions in my mind - which I incorporated into speeches on the subject. So much so that I remember someone once telling me (it could have been Ron Davies) that my anti GM speech sounded more pro-GM.

Firstly, there's the 'genie out of the bottle' argument. GM crops are being created and grown all over the world. We will not be able to stop them indefinitely. It was already impossible to distinguish between GM and non GM imported soya, which was a constituent part of many of our basic foodstuffs. History tells us that when the science exists, a way will be found to implement it. There was also the dubiously moral stance of opposing GM crops in Wales 'until thorough research had been carried out' - but insisting that none of this research took place in Wales. This is akin to awaiting the results of research carried out in England, before allowing GM crops to be grown in Wales. GM maize was already being grown about 15 miles from my farm, just over the border in Shropshire - out in the open air. And there's the issue of the competitiveness of Welsh agriculture. If GM crops become widely grown, which I do think is inevitable, there's a danger that home grown cereals would become uncompetitive.

Growing GM crops in Wales was not and is not illegal. But activists took the law into their own hands. A GM maize crop near Chester (in Wales though) which I visited to discuss the issue with the farmer was trashed by vandals wearing white lab suits. A proposed trial in Pembrokeshire, again on land of a farmer I knew well was aborted as a result of threats of a commercial nature. Don't know this for certain of course, but I would be surprised if this violent behaviour has not driven the growing of GM crops underground - so to speak. Whatever, I'm with the Minister is adopting as cautious approach as is legally possible within the law.

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