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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Highlands backing GM-free status
Grainfield at sunrise   Monsanto
Planned GM production in the UK has been shelved
The Highlands has become the first area in Scotland to declare its opposition to genetically modified crops.

The move to join a European network of regions against GM crops was given unanimous backing from councillors.

The area has already played host to a controversial trial of modified oil seed rape at Munlochy, Ross-shire.

The Scottish Executive said there was no legal basis for an outright ban, but that it would give guidance on how a voluntary ban could work.

Highland Council joins a group of regions opposed to engineered crops which includes Wales and regions in Austria, Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Greece.

The agreement calls on the European Commission to allow regional governments to declare themselves GM-free zones.

It supports banning the use of genetically modified seeds and making GM producers liable for any contamination of conventional crops.

The council is willing to take the fight against GM crops to Europe
Eleanor Scott, Green MSP
Chairman of the council's land and environment committee, Richard Durham, said there was widespread public support for the decision.

He said: "There is a strong and clear feeling, I think, among the folk of the Highlands that they are still very concerned about GM.

"And there is a clear view that the Highlands, if possible, would like to be GM-free."

Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace told BBC Radio's Newsdrive programme that he recognised there was no popular groundswell for GM crops but that the council and executive had to abide by European legislation.

Mr Wallace said: "I don't want to pretend that we can impose a ban that will withstand legal challenge.

Voluntary basis

"But I think if people do wish to do it on a voluntary basis, then that's fine by us."

Highlands and Islands Green MSP Eleanor Scott said: "I am really impressed by the lead that is being taken by Highland Council's land and environment select committee in opposing GM crops.

"They understand what the Scottish Executive has not faced up to - that people do not want GM crops here because they are a threat to the environment and to the rural economy.

"The council is willing to take the fight against GM crops to Europe, whilst the executive continues to claim there is nothing it can do."

The UK Government has already licensed one strain of modified maize for growth.

But Bayer CropScience - the only firm eligible to grow the crop in the UK - has shelved plans for production, blaming government conditions for making cultivation "economically non-viable".

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