Page last updated at 19:46 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Tighter Wales GM rules unveiled

Grainfield at sunrise
In 2000 AMs voted unanimously to keep Wales GM-free

Plans to tighten up rules on the planting of genetically modified crops in Wales have been announced by Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones.

She told AMs that "co-existence" regulations between GM, conventional and organic crops should be tougher in keeping with a "precautionary approach"

The assembly government cannot ban the planting of approved GM crops but can make regulations to stop contamination.

Conservatives welcomed the statement and said they would study the plans.

Welsh ministers have consistently sought the most restrictive policy possible on GM crops, within EU and UK legislation.

Those regulations can limit the ways in which those crops can be planted, harvested, and processed in order to avoid any contamination of non-GM crops, and possible damage to the livelihoods of other farmers.

Ms Jones said the measures proposed would be "more restrictive than those proposed in England and Northern Ireland".

Options to be considered during a three-month consultation include:

• imposing strict liability on GM crop growers and introducing a voluntary industry-funded compensation scheme

• a statutory redress mechanism

• GM-free zones

• a ban on GM crop cultivation in statutory conservation areas such as national parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

Ms Jones said a statutory national register which the public could access was planned, with farmers needing to register with the assembly government three months before planting GM crops.

She said there would be a "statutory requirement to inform all neighbours and landowners" to ensure GM crops were kept a sufficient distance away from other crops.

There would be "significant isolation distances between GM and non-GM crops and buffer zones incorporating pollen barriers or traps," she said.

GM producers would also be required to keep records and to train all staff handling the crops.

Cross-party

Ms Jones pledged to "continue to review evidence as we do in all policy areas to ensure that our approach to GM remains informed and takes into account new and emerging evidence".

She said she hoped to begin the consultation over "the next few weeks".

Genetically modified crops were one of the first major issues the first assembly grappled with.

In 2000, AMs voted unanimously to keep Wales GM-free.

On Tuesday, however, just a third of AMs were present in the chamber for Ms Jones's statement.

Conservatives rural affairs spokesman Brynle Williams maintained the cross-party approach to the matter

"We welcome the minister's announcement today and we will study her proposals closely, " he said.

"The issues surrounding GM crops are controversial and the needs and wishes of farmers and communities must be considered," Mr Williams added.

'Valid technology'

But a note of discord came from Labour AM Alun Davies, accusing the minister of taking an "antagonistic approach".

"For any government to take such an antagonistic approach to any valid technology is a disappointment in many ways," he said.

He urged the assembly government to listen to the public debate on GM with an "open mind", warning ministers of the danger that they could be "inhibiting research".

Mr Davies insisted Wales needed to be seen throughout the world as "a place to get things done, where things happen and not a place where we seek to stop things happening and to prevent things being done".

SEE ALSO
GM crops set to get go ahead
09 Mar 04 |  Science & Environment
Executive creates GM maze
07 Mar 04 |  Scotland

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