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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
No legal grounds to stop GM trials
organic carrots being harvested
Organic farmers fear their crops could be contaminated
The Welsh Assembly has been told that there are no legal grounds to confirm a ban on GM test sites in Wales.

Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones emerged from a meeting of the assembly's all-party GM strategy group to announce that he had decided not to confirm a prohibition order banning of growing of GM crops.

Flintshire farmer John Cottle
Crop trials: Flintshire farmer John Cottle

AMs had been waiting to find out if an official scientific assessment by advisory body Acre had turned up enough evidence to challenge three trials of genetically-modified maize ordered by the UK government at Marthy in Pembrokeshire andSealand, Flintshire

The move has sparked fierce objections from organic farmers in west Wales, who are worried that their livelihoods could be at stake if the GM crops cross-pollinate with their own.

The assembly - which will hold a debate on the issue on Thursday - has a cross-party agreement on opposition to cross-party consensus for Wales to remain GM-free.

Emerging from the talks, Mr Jones said: "As things presently stand we do not have a legal basis for prohibiting the planting of these crops but no decision will be taken before a statement is made on Tuesday so all members can be fully briefed about the position.

As things presently stand we do not have a legal basis for prohibiting the planting of these crops

Welsh Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones
"We are looking at ways of safeguarding organic production and this will be clarified on Tuesday."

Until these latest trials were announced, the only other GM experiment was at Sealand in Flintshire on a farm on the English border.

But had Carwyn Jones obtained evidence that the planned new trials would present a risk to crops in the surrounding fields, he may have had the legal power to stop any fresh trials.

The Conservatives, however, had warned Mr Jones against imposing a ban regardless

The Tories' agriculture spokesman Glyn Davies AM said his party would not support a decision to prohibit the trials unless the scientific and legal advice is absolutely clear.

GM maize
Test crops: A field of GM maize

He said the assembly must behave like a parliament - rather than a pressure group.

This latest news follows a ballot last October, where AMs voted 42-10 against the Seeds (National List of Varieties) Regulations 2000, which have already been approved by England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The issue had been debated long before that with members urging the then Agriculture Secretary Christine Gwyther to come up with a "GM-free Wales" policy.

But that hope was dashed last November when Flintshire farmer John Cottle became the first farmer in Wales to take allow his land - on the border with England - to be used in GM crop trials.

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See also:

04 Apr 01 | Wales
Minister knew of GM crop trials
10 Oct 00 | Wales
Assembly GM debate postponed
26 May 00 | Wales
Farm economy contribution row
18 Oct 00 | Wales
Early test for coalition
28 Aug 00 | Wales
Wales' only GM trial damaged
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